Newsom seeks to preserve 30% of land, water for climate

Source: By Anne C. Mulkern, E&E News reporter • Posted: Thursday, October 8, 2020

Nearly one-third of California land and coastal waters must be preserved by 2030 to help prevent the release of emissions that are causing climate change under an executive order signed by the governor yesterday.

Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) directed the California Natural Resources Agency and other departments to devise a plan by early 2022 for reaching the goal. The move comes as catastrophic wildfires ravage California and mark the latest effort by Newsom to accelerate state efforts to address climate change.

Last month, Newsom announced that the sale of new gas-powered cars would be prohibited after 2035 (E&E News PM, Sept. 23).

“Climate change is not just about greenhouse gas emissions emanating from tailpipes of vehicles,” Newsom said yesterday at an orchard in Winters, west of Sacramento. “It’s the ability to sequester these greenhouse gas emissions in our soils.”

It’s a first-in-the-nation program aimed at sequestering carbon in California soils, vegetation and coastal waters, Newsom said, adding that he hopes other states would use similar programs.

It comes as Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) is proposing a “30 by 30” concept at the federal level. The legislation would set a national goal of protecting at least 30% of “the land and ocean of the United States” within a decade to address a “conservation and climate crisis” (Greenwire, Sept. 9).

Udall yesterday called California’s pledge “another sign of the growing momentum behind this necessary and achievable goal, and serves as a call to action for the nation.”

“Western states like New Mexico and California are in the bull’s eye of the climate crisis — leading to increasingly destructive wildfires and drought,” Udall said in a statement. “Taking action to conserve nature not only saves species from extinction due to habitat loss, but restoring lands is also a cost-effective way to fight greenhouse gas emissions and helps species adapt and migrate.”

California is the third-biggest state by land mass and sprawls across nearly 105 million acres. Nearly 48% of that is controlled by the federal government.

Officials with the Interior Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Newsom’s order.

“We will work with our federal partners. We will work with our public partners,” Newsom said. “But we will work with our private partners as well to actively manage and engage these lands in these conservation efforts.”

If the order is implemented, the federal government would need to consult with state authorities before Interior or another department seeks to take actions in California, such as permitting new oil drilling, said Aaron Weiss, deputy director of the Center for Western Priorities.

Newsom’s order directed the Natural Resources Agency to develop strategies that safeguard economic sustainability and food security, protect biodiversity, and expand outdoor access and recreation for all Californians. It also ordered the department to build climate resilience, reduce risk from extreme climate events and contribute to the state’s effort to combat climate change.

Newsom said it was not intended to stop agriculture, fishing or development of biofuels, which can involve cutting down trees.

Green groups praised the move.

Species are going extinct “at an alarming rate” as the Earth’s wild places disappear, Weiss said in an interview. Scientists have said that “we are reaching a tipping point” that could result in thousands of species’ extinctions, he said.

“The only way to stop these mass extinctions in their tracks is to preserve habitats” across the world, Weiss said. “When you are protecting habitats, you also are protecting carbon,” he added.

Newsom’s order on its own won’t result in large reductions of greenhouse gas emissions, said John Abatzoglou, an associate professor of climatology at the University of California, Merced.

“But California has sort of been a bellwether, adopting policy that gets adopted by other states,” he said.

One environmental group criticized Newsom’s action as insufficient.

“Once again, Governor Newsom talks a big talk about climate change, and once again he fails to deliver,” Food & Water Action California’s Alexandra Nagy said in a statement.

“More than 2,600 fossil fuel drilling permits issued by his administration this year are contributing to climate chaos, not addressing it,” she added. “Until Newsom acknowledges the urgent need to halt new oil and gas drilling instead of encouraging it, he can never be taken seriously as a climate leader.”