Even if the world is successful in cutting carbon emissions in the future, California needs to start preparing for rising sea levels, hotter weather and other effects of climate change, a new state report recommends.
It 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 California Natural Resources Agency, who helped prepare the report. "Those gases are still going to be in the atmosphere for the next 100 years."
The draft report to be released Monday by the California Natural Resources Agency 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 after the public weighs in.
The report was compiled after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger directed 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 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 in the year, and there are hotter days and fewer cold nights.
The report warns that rising temperatures over the next few decades will lead to more heat waves, wildfires, droughts and floods.
"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. State agencies also should not plan, permit, develop or build any structure that might require protection in the future.
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.