Conservation & Science

California, a global climate leader

From Nov. 30-Dec. 11, leaders from more than 190 nations are gathering in Paris for the 2015 United Nations Conference on Climate Change, or COP21. The conference aims to achieve a binding international agreement to slow the pace of climate change. If we as a global community take bold and meaningful action in Paris, we can change course and leave our heirs a better world. Monterey Bay Aquarium is working to raise public awareness about the serious ways our carbon emissions affect ocean health, including ocean acidification, warming sea waters and other impacts on marine life. Today, our guest blogger is California Secretary for Natural Resources John Laird.

I’ve spent the better part of my life observing the sea and advocating for its protection. In recent years, a link has become clear between our human footprint on the environment, unusual weather patterns and ecological shifts due to global climate.

Just a few weeks ago, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife delayed the opening of the commercial Dungeness crab season due to high levels of domoic acid, which stem from a large and persistent harmful algal bloom.

King Tides_MBA
King tides brought unusually high waters to the Aquarium’s doorstep in early 2014.

This winter, coastal residents are bracing for unusually and potentially dangerously high King tides. Due to warming of the Pacific Ocean, sea levels along the California coast have risen. This rise could prove most destructive in winter storm surges. Another side-effect of our greenhouse gas emissions is ocean acidification – the “other CO2 problem” – which holds dire implications for California’s economy and ocean health, vitality, and biodiversity.

Committed to fighting climate change

These regional phenomena occur against a global backdrop of rising sea levels, ocean acidification and declining fish stocks. Ocean health is a global issue and will require global solutions. But as the U.N. Conference on Climate Change occurs in Paris this week,  I’m happy to affirm that no jurisdiction in the Western Hemisphere is more committed to fighting climate change than California.  The administration of Gov. Jerry Brown has set the following 2030 targets:

  • Reduce today’s petroleum use in cars and trucks by up to 50 percent;
  • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent below 1990 levels;
  • Double the rate of energy efficiency savings in our buildings;
  • Generate half of our electricity from renewable sources; and
  • Reduce short-lived climate pollutants, cutting methane and hydrofluorocarbons by 40 percent and black carbon by 50 percent.

California is already on track to meet its 2030 goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels and generating 33 percent of its electricity from renewable sources. The state’s cap-and-trade system is fully operational.  Some of the proceeds from this program are invested by my own Natural Resources Agency in projects that lower emissions through agricultural land protection, wetlands restoration, forest health and drought response.

Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve coastline_NOAA
Sea levels are rising along the California coast, including at the Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve. Photo by NOAA

Electric vehicles on the rise

In addition, Gov. Brown’s administration is moving aggressively to implement its low carbon fuel standard (which the California Air Resources Board renewed in September) and achieve its electric vehicle targets. California represents 40 percent of the plug-in electric vehicle market and is partnering with other U.S. and international jurisdictions to promote widespread adoption of zero-emission vehicles.

Negotiations in Paris this week and next will help as leaders aim to achieve a legally binding and universal agreement to keep warming below 2 degrees Celsius – the threshold at which scientists say there will likely be catastrophic climate disruptions. However, even if the world is successful in collectively lowering greenhouse gas emissions, our climate will change. In California, the Natural Resources Agency is taking the lead in making the state resilient to climate change and preparing for uncertainties to come, especially those in our ocean and coastal ecosystems.

Documenting our vulnerabilities

Sea levels will continue to rise, coastal jurisdictions along the ocean and bays must be ready for extreme storm surges. My agency is taking action to document the state’s vulnerabilities to climate change and asking state agencies to report back by next summer on actions they are taking to prepare.

At the Natural Resources Agency, we have brought together the leading scientific thinkers to advise natural resource managers how ocean acidification and hypoxia will play out in different locations and how they may interact with other environmental stressors such as nutrient loading and warming waters. We are working with the federal government to align our monitoring and research planning. This will help us avoid critical information gaps and implement the most judicious adaptation measures to address ocean acidification hotspots.

This is why Paris is so important. World leaders are realizing the urgency to understand and act on climate change issues. There must be progress by all countries of the world, and we can all continuously learn from each other.  California’s efforts can help illuminate the path to a hopeful future.

Learn more about California’s climate change strategy.

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