Report: California Must Adapt to Changing Climate

August 4, 2009

California will see more heat waves, wildfires, droughts and floods due to rising temperatures over the next few decades, and the state needs to start preparing now to handle those effects of climate change, a new report recommends.

The state report by the California Natural Resources Agency encourages local communities to rethink future development in low-lying coastal areas, reinforce levees that protect flood-prone areas and conserve already strapped water supplies.

“We still have to adapt, no matter what we do, because of the nature of the greenhouse gases,” said Tony Brunello, deputy secretary for climate change and energy at the CNRA, who helped prepare the report. “Those gases are still going to be in the atmosphere for the next 100 years.”

The draft report provides the state’s first comprehensive plan to work with local governments, universities and residents to deal with a changing climate. A final plan is expected to be released in the fall.

The report was compiled after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger told agencies in November to devise a state climate strategy. It comes three years after the Republican governor signed California’s landmark global warming law requiring the state to slash greenhouse gas emissions by 2020.

Most countries have focused on cutting greenhouse gases in the future, but researchers say those efforts will take decades to have an effect while the planet continues to warm. States have only recently begun to look at what steps they must take now to minimize the damage expected from sea level rise, storm surges, droughts and water shortages because of the climate changes.

Over the last century in California, the sea level has risen by 7 inches, average temperatures have increased, spring snowmelt occurs earlier, and there are hotter days and fewer cold nights.

“We have to deal with those unavoidable impacts,” said Suzanne Moser, a research associate at the Institute of Marine Sciences at the University of California Santa Cruz. “We can’t pretend they are not going to happen and we have to prepare for that.”

To minimize the potential damage from climate change, the report recommends that cities and counties offer incentives to encourage property owners in high-risk areas to relocate and limit future development in places that might be affected by flooding, coastal erosion and sea level rise.

Fire fighting agencies should begin immediately to include climate change impact information into fire program planning, the report recommends.

State agencies also should not plan, permit, develop or build any structure that might require protection in the future, it said.

The report suggests the state partner with local governments and private landowners to create large reserves that protect wildlife threatened by warmer weather. Similarly, wetlands and fish corridors should be established to protect salmon and other fragile fish.

The report says farmers should be encouraged to be more efficient when watering their crops, and investments should be made to improve crop resistance to hotter temperatures.

Additionally, the report says the state should work to meet projected population growth and increased energy demand with greater energy conservation. Renewable energy supplies should be enhanced through the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan to reach a goal of 33 percent of the state’s energy supply from renewable sources by 2020 in ways that protect sensitive habitat.

Comments on the draft report may be submitted to adaptation@resources.ca.gov.

Associated Press writer Samantha Young contributed to this article.

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