A Bottom-Up Climate Approach

Governor's Office

Photo: Governor's Office

The second Governors’ Climate Summit kicked off yesterday with a plenary on adaptation to climate change. Most of the climate policy we hear about has to do with mitigation; cutting emissions to reduce the rate of climate warming. Increasingly, though, policy makers are looking at ways to adapt to the effects that are already palpable.

Several international leaders had stories to tell:

– Premier Gordon Campbell of British Columbia said that due to warming winters, pine beetles will kill 80% of the mature pine forests in his province by 2013.

– Dr. Dessima Williams of the Alliance of Small Island States said rising sea levels make climate change “a case of life and death” for island nations.

According to a World Bank analysis cited by Michele De Nevers of the Bank’s Environment Department, adapting to climate change will cost $75-100 billion dollars a year for developing countries–and that’s with only 2 degrees (Celsius) of warming by 2050. That seems like a big number, but De Nevers reminded the crowd that it’s on par with the recent financial bailout.

I also spoke with Margret Kim, China Program Director for the California Air Resources Board and EPA, who has been working with the government of the Jiangsu Province in China.  She filled me in on the agreement that Governor Schwarzenegger is expected to sign today with leaders from the province to help them reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  Based on this framework, California would develop an action plan to share expertise and research with the province.

This partnership is built on a 2005 agreement that California signed with the province, which was focused on energy efficiency. Barbara Finamore of the Natural Resources Defense Council says real progress was made on the first agreement with Jiangsu, which set several efficiency incentives and programs in motion. But they have more to do.  Ninety-five percent of the province’s electricity comes from coal.

The announcement comes on the heels of President Hu Jintao’s declaration less than two weeks ago that China would make notable reductions in its carbon intensity by 2020.  Carbon intensity isn’t quite as simple as a straight emissions cut. It measures the amount of carbon dioxide produced for each dollar of economic output.  And fixed targets aren’t part of the expected Jiangsu agreement either. But Finamore says this is a landmark agreement since it shows an important shift in China’s willingness to tackle climate change. As she said, “I’ve been working in China on energy issues for more than 20 years, and there has been a tremendous amount of recent progress.” And a bottom-up approach–with states piloting environmental policies before national governments adopt them–is certainly something we’re familiar with in California.

Plan Moves Climate Adaptation to Front Burner

A one-fifth reduction in per capita water use by 2020 is among the goals outlined in a new state report on adapting to climate change.

Released by the California Natural Resources Agency (CNRA) as a “discussion draft,”  the 2009 California Climate Adaptation Strategy is being billed as the nation’s first comprehensive game plan for adaptation to climate change.

Reed Galin

Photo: Reed Galin

Most of the state’s high-profile climate initiatives (and battles) have been about mitigation; how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to slow down warming. This report swings the spotlight over to adaptation; what needs to be done to accommodate the climate change effects that are already “in the pipeline.”

While the California’s centerpiece climate law was passed three years ago, this week’s CNRA report concedes that “adaptation is a relatively new concept in California policy.” The 161-page white paper comes in response to an executive order from the Governor last fall, calling for a statewide adaptation strategy.

The draft divides the strategy into seven “sectors:” Public health, biodiversity and habitat, ocean and coastal resources, water, agriculture, and forestry.

Tony Brunello, Deputy Secretary for Climate Change and Energy at CNRA, says “This is the first report that really looks at how climate change is going to impact the state and what we need to do about it.”

But Brunello stopped short of conceding that mitigation is a lost cause. “You only have half a deck if you’re only focused on mitigation,” he said. “You need to focus on both mitigation and adaptation to truly be prepared.”

Some strategies attack both. Brunello points to water conservation measures, which save both water and energy (20% of the energy used in the state is deployed moving water around).

The plan is designed to work in consort with the California Air Resources Board’s implementation plan for AB-32, the state’s multifaceted attack on greenhouse gas emissions. CNRA says one of its goals is to “enhance” existing efforts, rather than create new programs and offices that need funding.

CNRA also promises to use the “best available science in identifying climate change risks and adaptation strategies.” Andrew Revkin has a useful overview of the mounting challenges to climate scientists, published this week in the New York Times.

One planned product from the adaptation plan is an interactive website devoted to climate adaptation, with maps and data to assist local planners. CNRA hopes to have that in place by early next year. The draft plan now enters a 45-day period for public comment.

PPIC Analyst: Start Adapting Now to Climate Change

This is a guest post from Louise Bedsworth, research fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California.  She and PPIC Research Director Ellen Hanak are co-authors of the report: “Preparing California for a Changing Climate,”  which we wrote about here last month. The report discusses the challenges that climate change poses for a number of the state’s environmental and resource institutions and how well prepared we are for addressing these challenges.

What is adaptation to climate change and why do we need it now?

We have discussed our report on preparing for climate change with a variety of audiences over the past several weeks, beginning with a half-day event in Sacramento on December 2nd that included state leaders, representatives from environmental organizations, and city officials from all over California.  We found that while the topic of adaptation can seem to be all doom and gloom, there are several programs in place and underway that should help California prepare for the effects of climate change that we can’t prevent. One important question that keeps coming up at these events is why we need to be thinking about adapting to global warming now that the state has focused on fighting it.

Adaptation, or climate change preparedness, refers to the adjustments that can be made to help to cope with the effects of climate change.  These impacts include higher temperatures, accelerated sea level rise, and disruptions to the state’s water supply, all of which have real consequences for California.  For example, the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission has prepared maps showing what the Bay would look like with one meter of sea level rise.  These maps show the significant impacts on San Francisco Bay communities and infrastructure, including inundation of the region’s airports and Silicon Valley.

Ideally, adaptive actions will help to reduce vulnerability in the face of change or to improve resiliency.  Even under the most optimistic scenarios (e.g., successful emission reductions globally), some amount of climate change appears to be inevitable.

Adaptation goes in hand-in-hand with efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  Generally speaking, the more successful efforts to reduce emissions are, the less adaptation will be needed.  And, some efforts to reduce emissions – such as energy efficiency – will also help us adapt by lessening energy use under high demand conditions.  But, adaptation and mitigation efforts can be in conflict – for example, planting non-native trees either to store carbon or provide shade can help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but could place additional stress on efforts to protect native species in a changing climate.  To avoid such conflicts now and in the future, adaptation needs to be well-defined and integrated in the current climate policy discussion in California.

A recent report from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies found significant obstacles to climate change adaptation in the United States.  These were similar to barriers that we observed for California – uncertainty in the science of climate change, lack of funding or resources, regulatory and legal obstacles, and lack of political will or incentive.

But, we also found some reasons to optimistic about the prospects for adaptation in California.  Water and electricity agencies appear to be out in front on adaptation and overcoming these obstacles.  As service providers, both water and electricity providers have an incentive (and an obligation) to be considering adaptation.  They are used to doing long-range planning and weathering supply uncertainties.  Finally, and very importantly, water and electricity providers have a rate-payer base that can provide funding for undertaking adaptation.  In addition, there are tools in other sectors that can help with adaptation.  There are public health programs such as disease tracking and heat emergency plans that can provide a starting point for developing climate change preparedness.

As the California Resources Agency develops the state’s Climate Adaptation Strategy, the knowledge and experience from these programs should provide a solid starting point.

CA is “Extra Vulnerable” to Climate Change

3115732217_d7901f1545_m.jpgClimate change will most likely affect California more dramatically than it does many other places, according to researchers speaking Tuesday at the American Geophysical Union’s annual meeting in San Francisco. The panel featured new research into climate change impacts on sea level rise, agriculture, water evaluation and planning, air pollution, and extreme climate events.

Climate researcher Dan Cayan, from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, described California as “extra vulnerable” to climate change and gave a broad (and somewhat scary) overview of the reasons why. The state’s temperature increases are expected to be similar to the global average temperature rise in the coming decades, making for hotter summers with longer heat waves. Given the expected increase in population in California’s interior, longer and harsher heat waves could have significant public health implications.

On top of the more intense summers and milder winters, precipitation across the state may well decrease, especially in Southern California. These drier conditions will be compounded by a significant withering of the Sierra snowpack. Even with a moderate increase in temperature (2 degrees C), Cayan says more than half of the historic California snowpack will disappear by 2100, as the mountains get more rain than snow at higher elevations. That can increase flooding and coupled with expected sea rise over the next century, the San Francisco Bay and the Sacramento/San Joaquin Delta may be in for some extreme events.

Fortunately, others are looking into sea level rise and what it’s going to mean for the San Francisco Bay Area and the coast of California. Peter Gleick, president and founder of the Pacific Institute, spoke about a new study currently under review focused on the projected impacts of sea level rise, including flooding and erosion, and the potential responses. The study will evaluate flood and erosion potential, create detailed maps of California’s vulnerable areas, estimate risks to populations and structures, anticipate costs of various adaptation strategies, and make policy recommendations. Gleick cited one immediate need as a catalog of the state’s existing levees and their conditions.

The report’s results should be out in February, which is also when we should see the draft version of the first California Adaptation Strategy, which aims to compile information on expected climate change impacts for the state and provide policymakers and resource managers with strategies for addressing them.