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Climate and Environment

Another Victim Of The 2020 Wildfires: Progress On Carbon Emissions

The downtown Los Angeles skyline is shrouded in haze
Smoke from the 2020 wildfires erased gains made by Californians in reducing carbon emissions over the previous 16 years.
(Frederic J. Brown
AFP via Getty Images)
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Remember all those wildfires up and down the state in 2020? They erased our gains in reducing carbon emissions over the previous 16 years.

That doesn't sound good: Well, it isn't great. UCLA researchers found that between 2003 and 2019 Californians reduced their carbon emissions by 65 million tons. But the wildfires of 2020 released 127 million metric tons in that year alone.

What happened? Rajinder Sahota of the California Air Resources Board says plans to reduce emissions by 2020 did not account for increase in wildfires.

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"The target that was set in 2006, focused on the root cause of climate change, which is energy and combustion of fossil fuels and the state," Sahota explained. "What we didn't know then and what we've learned now is that the climate impacts have accelerated."

Is there a positive spin on this? Without all the carbon emission reductions leading up the 2020 wildfires, that much more carbon would have entered the atmosphere.

What's next: A law passed over the summer aims to make California carbon neutral by 2045. To achieve this goal, the state Air Resources Board says that properly managing our forest will be as important as stopping the burning of fossil fuels.

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