California, GHG Emissions, Million Tons of C0₂-Equivalent
Note: Adapted from “One year of wildfires undid decades of California’s emissions policy,” The Economist, October 19, 2022.
Source: Up in Smoke: California’s Greenhouse Gas Reductions Could be Wiped Out by 2020 Wildfires, Environmental Pollution, October 2022
As wildfires raged in California again this summer, the damages are adding up. On top of the immediate loss, the wildfires lead to pollution that is set to shave nearly a year off the life expectancy of residents in California’s most polluted counties if pollution levels persist. What is often ignored is that, fueled by climate change’s higher temperatures and drier conditions, the wildfires also contribute to climate change. An analysis by Harris Public Policy’s Amir Jina and his colleagues finds the wildfires in 2020 alone make up 30 percent of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions—the second largest source of emissions in the state behind only the transportation sector.
The carbon dioxide from wildfires is not counted against California’s emissions targets. But if it were, the wildfires would be setting California back in meeting its climate goals, with the carbon emissions from California’s 2020 fire season alone making up 49 percent of the state’s 2030 emissions target. Between 2003 and 2019, the state’s emissions fell by 13 percent, preventing 65 million tonnes of emissions. But in 2020, a single fire season emitted almost twice as much, 127 million tonnes.