California’s Adaptation Strategy shows leadership that Senate climate bill should follow

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The final version of the 2009 California Climate Adaptation Strategy released last week puts forth a set of wide-ranging recommendations for managing and adapting to a set of difficult climate change impacts throughout the state.  Meanwhile, a recent framework for climate legislation put forth by Sens. John Kerry, Lindsey Graham, and Joe Lieberman does not address dealing with impacts at all.  The US will put itself in a perilous position if California’s advice is not heeded:  “To effectively address the challenges that a changing climate will bring, climate adaptation and mitigation…policies must complement each other, and efforts within and across sectors must be coordinated.”

Our earlier post on the draft version released in August for public comment:

California draft climate change adaptation strategy a step ahead of House-passed climate bill

Billed as a “first-of-its-kind multi-sector strategy to help guide California’s efforts in adapting to climate change impacts,” the 2009 California Climate Adaptation Strategy synthesizes scientific knowledge of climate change impacts in seven sectors and provides recommendations on how to best prepare for and manage them.  Developed by multiple state agencies with heavy stakeholder input, California’s plan represents a more comprehensive approach toward climate change planning and preparedness than any taken so far by the Obama White House or Congress, including the lengthy adaptation provisions in any of the major climate bills in play.

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California’s adaptation website

Download the Executive Summary (.pdf)

Download the full report:  2009 California Climate Adaptation Strategy (200 pages, .pdf)

The seven sectors covered in the strategic plan include:

•  public health
•  biodiversity and habitat
•  ocean and coastal resources
•  water management
•  agriculture
•  forestry
•  transportation and energy infrastructure

The adaptation titles in Waxman-Markey (HR 2454), and Kerry-Boxer (S 1733) cover only natural resources and public health, neglecting planning and preparedness for climate disruptions to our energy, industrial, and transportation sectors and the built environment.  While the provisions for natural resources and public health are very good and have strong constituencies supporting them, failing to develop a national strategy for all major sectors of our economy and environment poses unnecessary risks to society and, because of the threat-multiplier effect of climate change, is a potentially dangerous error in governance that needs to be corrected.

A bipartisan letter (.pdf) sent to President Obama yesterday (December 10) by Senators John Kerry, Lindsey Graham, and Joe Lieberman outlines several approaches and principles to be followed for reducing greenhouse gas emissions—including ensuring a prominent role for coal and domestic oil and gas in the future U.S. energy mix—but is silent on the need to plan and prepare for climate change consequences across major social and economic sectors.

So, with partial adaptation provisions in the major cap-and-trade bills and neglect of adaptation in bipartisan consensus-building attempts to create a politically passable Senate bill—we are concerned that insufficient attention is being paid to issues of adaptive preparedness for dealing with the potential consequences of global climatic disruption, including prolonged droughts, heat waves, floods, deadlier storms and hurricanes, threats to food and water supplies, and stress on forests and other ecosystems.

This said, we are hopeful that ongoing work being done through a relatively new interagency task force on climate change adaptation led by the Council on Environmental Quality and the Office of Science and Technology Policy will produce a national strategy for adaptive preparedness that can be implemented expeditiously.  The Adaptation Task Force and its working groups would do well to follow these California guidelines:

• Use the best available science in identifying climate change risks and adaptation strategies.
• Understand that data continues to be collected and that knowledge about climate change is still evolving. As such, an effective adaptation strategy is “living” and will itself be adapted to account for new science.
• Involve all relevant stakeholders in identifying, reviewing, and refining the state’s adaptation strategy.
• Establish and retain strong partnerships with federal, state, and local governments, tribes, private business and landowners, and non-governmental organizations to develop and implement adaptation strategy recommendations over time.
• Give priority to adaptation strategies that initiate, foster, and enhance existing efforts that improve economic and social well-being, public safety and security, public health, environmental justice, species and habitat protection, and ecological function.
• When possible, give priority to adaptation strategies that modify and enhance existing policies rather than solutions that require new funding and new staffing.
• Understand the need for adaptation policies that are effective and flexible enough for circumstances that may not yet be fully predictable.

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