California calls for all new cars to be zero emission by 2035, the state’s latest bold action on climate

The move — an action called for by our Destination: Zero Carbon campaign — attacks the source of half of the Golden State’s global warming pollution.

Credit: Myriam Thines via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 2.0

On Sept. 23, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that California will adopt the most ambitious climate action policy in America: a goal that all new cars and passenger trucks sold in the state by 2035 be zero-emission vehicles. After 2045, the state will also require all zero-emission medium and heavy-duty vehicles (in other words, trucks and buses).

Environment California had called for Gov. Newsom to enact this goal as part of our Destination: Zero Carbon campaign for a broader move toward a zero-emission transportation system.

Credit: Department of Energy via Flickr, Creative Commons

Why it matters for California, the country and the planet 

With this action, California will not only make a dent in America’s overall emissions, but also clear a path for action elsewhere. Consider:

  • Transportation is America’s number one source of planet-warming carbon pollution, accounting for 28 percent of all such emissions in the country. Cars, trucks and other motor vehicles are the source of more than half of California’s carbon footprint.

  • The governor’s office says that the shift to all zero-emission vehicles will reduce carbon pollution from cars statewide by 35 percent.

  • California has more registered cars than any other state. Any action taken on vehicles by the state has a considerable impact on America’s total emissions and on the broader market for electric vehicles (EVs).

  • Policies in place in other states make it more likely that they will follow California’s lead. Thirteen other states, plus Washington, D.C., have adopted Clean Car Standards based on California’s. 

  • Nine of those states — which, along with California, represent 27 percent of the country’s population — have adopted similar zero-emission vehicle standards. 

  • Imagine: If one in four Americans live in a state where all new cars will be zero-emission by 2035, the transition to all-electric cars could accelerate overnight.   

Credit: Jonathen Davis

What we did to put California in the driver’s seat on zero carbon transportation

The California goal is the culmination of decades of work by environmental advocates and citizens, an effort that Environment California has helped lead for close to two decades: 

  • In 2004, our staff and volunteers gathered 100,000 petition signatures to pass the nation’s first clean cars bill to limit carbon pollution;

  • In 2014, we helped lead a coalition in launching the Charge Ahead California campaign to put 5 million electric vehicles on California roads; 

  • In 2020, we supported a bill that would put us on a path to installing a million electric vehicle charging stations across the state. On Sept. 23, Gov. Newsom signed an Environment California-backed bill easing approval for charging stations. 

Across the country, other groups in our national network — including the state PIRGs and other state environmental groups — played a major role in convincing their states to adopt California’s Clean Car Standards. Together, in 2009 we helped convince the Obama administration to adopt national standards and now our attorneys are defending them in court against the Trump administration’s unlawful attempts to undo them.

What’s next?

The next steps for California, as well as other states, toward zero carbon transportation will depend in part on what happens in the courts to the Trump administration’s attacks on the Clean Air Act and on what voters decide in the general election. No matter the outcomes, it appears increasingly certain that America will someday put polluting gas-powered cars in the rearview mirror. The only question remaining is whether the forces of resistance will slow the transition, or whether environmental advocates and activists will keep our foot on the accelerator.

Credit: Staff

How you can help: 

When Americans want to hit the road to see our country’s national wonders, they should be able to do it in a vehicle that doesn’t harm the planet. That’s why we’re supporting legislation to install charging stations at national parks across the U.S.

Add your name to support the Green Spaces, Green Vehicles act today.

Learn more: Read our statement about California’s new goal.


Dan Jacobson

Senior Advisor, Environment California

Dan provides campaign strategy and policy guidance for Environment California's program and organizational plans. Prior to his current role, he worked as the state director of Environment California and the organizing director of Florida PIRG, among other roles. The Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technologies (CEERT) named Dan a Clean Power Champion in 2019, and Capitol Weekly named him one of the “Top 100 Lobbyists” in California in 2008. Dan's areas of expertise include renewable energy, electric vehicles and ocean pollution, and he has successfully advocated for the passage of dozens of bills into law, including measures to ban toxic chemicals, bring 1 million solar roofs to California, and ban single-use plastic grocery bags. He ran the campaign for SB 100, California’s law setting a goal of 100 percent clean energy by 2045.