© 2018 The Author(s). Published by IOP Publishing Ltd. Analysis systems incorporating atmospheric observations could provide a powerful tool for validating fossil fuel CO2 (ffCO2) emissions reported for individual regions, provided that fossil fuel sources can be separated from other CO2 sources or sinks and atmospheric transport can be accurately accounted for. We quantified ffCO2 by measuring radiocarbon (14C) in CO2, an accurate fossil-carbon tracer, at nine observation sites in California for three months in 2014-15. There is strong agreement between the measurements and ffCO2 simulated using a high-resolution atmospheric model and a spatiotemporally-resolved fossil fuel flux estimate. Inverse estimates of total in-state ffCO2 emissions are consistent with the California Air Resources Board's reported ffCO2 emissions, providing tentative validation of California's reported ffCO2 emissions in 2014-15. Continuing this prototype analysis system could provide critical independent evaluation of reported ffCO2 emissions and emissions reductions in California, and the system could be expanded to other, more data-poor regions.