Two recently released studies warn that California is not moving quickly enough to prepare for climate change, while a third study found that the San Diego region is not adapting. Meanwhile, Gov. Schwarzenegger signed an executive order directing state agencies to study the situation and recommend actions quickly.
A study authored by University of California, Berkeley, researchers David Roland-Holst and Fredrich Kahrl determined that the public and private sectors face billions of dollars in annual losses if they do not prepare for extreme weather events, rising sea level and increased wildfire, and that $2.5 trillion in real estate assets will be at risk.
A separate assessment prepared by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) found that while water agencies and electric utilities have begun to take steps to adapt to the changing climate, entities responsible for coastal resources, air quality, public health and ecosystem vitality are lagging.
"To be most effective, California policymakers should develop an integrated climate policy, one that considers efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and strategies for climate change adaptation in tandem," PPIC researchers Louise Bedsworth and Ellen Hanak recommended.
Both the UC Berkeley researchers, who prepared their report for the nonprofit organization Next 10, and PPIC credited the state and local entities for leading the way in mitigating climate change. However, both also urged greater research on the likely impacts of climate change and best ways to prepare. Schwarzenegger's executive order appears to be a step in the recommended direction. The order:
• Directs all state agencies to begin considering immediately potential sea level rise, increased storm surges and coastal erosion between 2050 and 2100 when planning construction projects. The order exempts routine maintenance and projects planned for the next five years.
• Orders Resources, the Business, Transportation and Housing Agency, and the Office of Planning and Research (OPR) to assess by mid-February the transportation system's vulnerability to sea level rise.
• Directs OPR and Resources to "provide state land use planning guidance related to sea level rise and other climate change impacts" by May 30, 2009.
• Gives Resource's existing Climate Action Team and a slew of other state agencies until June 30, 2009, to prepare a climate adaptation strategy for water, ocean and coastal resources, infrastructure, biodiversity, working landscapes and public health. This adaptation strategy "will be coordinated with California's climate change mitigation efforts."
• Directs the Resources Agency, Ocean Protection Council, California Energy Commission and coastal management agencies to work with the National Academy of Sciences to prepare a sea level rise assessment, and issue a final report on the state's vulnerability by December 2010.
All three independent reports cite scientific studies that predict the climate will continue to change for the next 100 years even if societies around the world begin reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Mitigation, however, could reduce climate change impacts.
The Next 10 report, "California Climate Risk and Response," focuses on the potential economic impacts of climate change. "While multiple studies have been conducted assessing the economic impacts of [the California Air Resource Board's AB 32] scoping plan, to date, there has been limited economic analysis of California's climate risk – the impacts of climate change if the state continues business-as-usual – or of the adaptation needed to cope with unavoidable climate change," the report says.
The report makes four core findings:
• Damage from climate change if no action is taken could amount to tens of billions of dollars per year in direct costs, and even more in indirect costs.
• Mitigation and adaptation may be executed at a fraction of this cost.
• The political challenges may be greater than the economic ones.
• Although there is a high degree of uncertainty regarding what adjustments are needed, "policymakers must have better visibility regarding climate risk and response options."
With the Sierra snow pack expected to decline by 30% to 80% toward the end of the century, and with continued population growth predicted, Roland-Holst and Kahrl say, "Effective climate response may require a complete re-appraisal of rules governing the state's water entitlements and private use."
The conclusion is roughly the same for electricity production and distribution, which will be challenged by higher temperatures and more people living in warmer inland areas – both of which exacerbate the need for air conditioning. The researchers found that $500 billion of highway, sea port and airport assets are at risk.
"What is needed right now is capacity at the state and local level for better assessment and incorporation of this information into strategic planning," the report concludes. "California can turn the threat of climate change into a growth opportunity with the right policy leadership."
The PPIC report makes some of the same observations regarding threats, responses to date and opportunities. Bedsworth and Hanak also find that some mitigation and adaptation measures are in conflict. For example, water recycling and desalination are adaptations to a less stable water supply, but they increase energy usage. "Conversely," the researchers write, "planting shade trees can lower home cooling needs, but this may come at the expense of higher water use. Similar water issues can arise for biofuels production."
Called "Preparing California for a Changing Climate," the PPIC report makes six recommendations for "state and local institutions":
• Improve the basic science on climate impacts.
• Help frontline actors, such as local governments, interpret the science.
• Determine where early actions are needed.
• Refine existing adaptation tools and experiment with new ones.
• Strengthen the incentives for coordinated federal, state and local actions.
• Make legal and regulatory adjustments.
"Local land use decisions (zoning, building codes) have implications for adaptation across a wide spectrum: habitat, water and energy use, and susceptibility to floods and wildfires, to name a few," the report says.
Another report, prepared by a collection of researchers and scientists for The San Diego Foundation, found that San Diego County is "uniquely threatened." The report cites threats such sea level rise and increased storm surge, a less dependable water supply, a longer fire season and invasion of fire-prone invasive species, loss of rare species, and increased loss of life from heat waves, which the report notes "have claimed more lives over the past 15 years than all other declared disaster events combined."
At the same time, San Diego County is expected to prepare for a 50% population increase to 4.5 million by 2050.
"California Climate Risk and Response," www.next10.org/research/research_ccrr.html
"Preparing California for a Changing Climate," www.ppic.org/main/publication.asp?i=755
"San Diego's Changing Climate: A Regional Wake-Up Call," www.sdfoundation.org
Governor's Executive Order S-13-08: www.gov.ca.gov/executive-order/11036