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California climate disruption costs: billions and trillions?

November 13, 2008 |  3:10 pm

Eroding beaches, disappearing snowpacks, subdivisions decimated by wildfires. Climate change in California could be expensive.

Now the costs of global warming's projected effects in the nation's largest state have been quantified. According to a new report, "California Climate Risk and Response," authored by UC Berkeley researchers Fredrich Kahrl and David Roland-Holst, about $2.5 trillion of real estate assets in California are at risk from extreme weather events, sea level rise and wildfires with a projected annual price tag of $300 million to $3.9 billion.

That's a big spread in estimated damages: The final number will depend on how much the earth warms under various scenarios and whether the nations commit to slashing greenhouse gas emissions under a global warming treaty to be negotiated next year. "This is a good review of existing studies," said Anthony Brunello, a California Resources Agency official. "It assesses the real, comprehensive statewide impacts for the first time."

Brunello and other California officials are busy planning a comprehensive "Climate Adaptation Strategy," to commit the state to concrete prevention measures. Six task forces covering biodiversity and habitat, infrastructure, oceans and coastal resources, public health, water, forestry and agriculture will release adaptation strategies for public comment next month.

"Our report makes clear the most expensive thing we can do about climate change is nothing," said Roland-Holst. But he added, "This is not a doomsday report.... California can adapt, needs to adapt and early action is cheaper than denial.... If we make the right investments, we can avert much of the damage in any scenario."

California is also moving to adopt comprehensive regulations to slash its own greenhouse gas emissions by 15% below today's level. But that would only put a dent in the trajectory of climate change, unless dramatic measures are undertaken nationwide and across other continents, according to scientists.

The report covers seven economic sectors: water; energy; tourism and recreation; real estate; agriculture, forestry and fisheries; transportation; and public health. It covers such issues as the possible collapse of the ski industry, a water-starved hydroelectric system and an increase in warming-related smog. The research was funded by Next 10, a nonprofit set up by high-tech entrepreneur F. Noel Perry.

-- Margot Roosevelt

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