California has become the first U.S. state to come to grips with greenhouse gas emissions that don’t occur within its border, but are incurred elsewhere to make and transport the things people buy and use.
Governor Jerry Brown’s newly-signed Buy Clean California Act “requires that the state set a maximum ‘acceptable lifecycle global warming potential’ for different building materials, specifying that only materials with embodied emissions below that level can be purchased by the state,” Carbon Brief reports.
Melting ore to make steel and sand to make glass are two of the most emissions-intensive industrial activities going. In California, the state government is the largest buyer of steel, and an influential player in other construction material markets (it’s also the biggest consumer of cement, another carbon-intensive product). The new act’s proponents hope the state “can leverage its buying power to help promote lower-carbon production practices,” Carbon Brief notes.
The new law currently applies only to steel, sheet glass, and mineral wool board insulation purchased for state government projects. But it mandates the California Department of General Services to “set a maximum acceptable emissions intensity for each material.” As of July 1, 2019, “companies bidding for projects with the state of California will have to submit robust life cycle assessments of the materials used in the projects, and ensure they meet the new standards,” writes environmental economist Zeke Hausfather.
The production of internationally traded goods accounts for 22% of all global CO2 emissions, and CO2 embodied in goods accounts for about 6% of U.S. emissions.