A United Nations committee honored California for working to reduce short-term climate pollutants, like methane and black carbon, at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bonn, Germany, on Sunday.
Gov. Jerry Brown and members of the state Legislature have spent much of the conference touting California's progressive climate laws, the state's cap-and-trade system and its commitment to international pacts to cut carbon emissions. But its award on Sunday was for a much more specific achievement.
The United Nations Environment Programme's Climate and Clean Air Coalition presented California with its Climate and Clean Air Award for having the "most comprehensive and strongest set of targets for reducing short-lived climate pollutant emissions into state law." California was one of two governments presented with an award for "Outstanding Policy."
Environmentalists have put great emphasis on cutting down these short-lived pollutants because of their ability to trap heat at a rate far greater than carbon dioxide.
Unlike carbon dioxide, methane and black carbon do not stay in the atmosphere for long periods of time. But methane that leaks from oil and gas fields can often skirt the state's emissions limits.
"Scientists tell us, if we get our handle on these short-term climate pollutants, we can have more time to meet our overall goal of decarbonizing the atmosphere," Brown said, after accepting the award.
The U.N. award recognizes efforts signed into law last year with Senate Bill 1383.
The bill set goals to cut methane and hydrofluorocarbon gases to 40 percent and black carbon to 50 percent below 2013 levels by 2030. The law faced heavy opposition from the dairy industry, as cattle are major sources of methane emissions.
"We all know how detrimental these are to human health," said SB 1383 author Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, on Sunday. "For the first time in our legislative body in California, we were able to link the health of our Californians with environmental policies."
This year, the state Air Resources Board began the process of meeting the targets laid out in Lara's bill. The board approved new regulations to cut down on methane emissions from oil and gas field operations by more closely monitoring and repairing methane leaks.