Fire and (Less) Ice: California’s Climate Future

firesign_blogThere was little “news” in this week’s report from California’s inter-agency Climate Action Team. The distillation of 37 academic studies mostly affirmed what we’ve been hearing from multiple sources lately; that “severe and costly impacts” likely lie ahead as the state’s climate changes.

The report’s findings are aligned with two of the scenarios modeled by the U.N.’s climate panel; the “B1″ outlook for moderate emissions of CO2, and the higher-emissions “A2″ scenario. While California has ambitious plans to curb carbon emissions, many recent reports agree that the world is presently on a path toward emissions even higher than the worst IPCC scenario.

Under that more severe tableau, says report co-author Dan Cayan of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, the number of wildfires in the state could double by 2085. Cayan said that “by every model,” the state is warming and in some areas, drying. One regional model sees precipitation in Southern California tailing off by 10% in years to come.

There’s more coverage of the report in Jane Kay’s article for the San Francisco Chronicle and Bettina Boxall’s story in the L.A. Times.

The Times article points to some relatively “good” news in the report; a UCLA study that the strength of fire-fanning Santa Ana winds may be subsiding. But there is also research out of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory that points to a longer Santa Ana season, so it’s unclear what the net effect might be in the long run.

In a media conference call attended by report authors and state officials, I asked about murmurings that the Western Climate Initiative may be unraveling. Eileen Tutt of Cal-EPA denied that the planned regional cap & trade program for cutting carbon emissions is in trouble. She said that in working with people from California’s six potential partner states, it’s her view that they “aren’t backing off at all.” She admitted that “rumors abound,” however.

Climate Watch has dispatched freelance correspondent Tom Banse to look further into those rumors. He’ll be reporting in from Washington and Oregon in the weeks to come.