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Claims Made That Climate Change Impacts On Los Angeles Only Partially Mitigated By AB 32 Implementation

Air Resources Board To Finalize Updated AB 32 Scoping Plan In Early 2014

By Tiffany L. Rider - Assistant Editor

December 17, 2013 – Under a business-as-usual scenario, research indicates that Los Angeles County is on track for less snowfall, hotter temperatures and an increase in the number of extreme heat days by mid-century, and these changes are inevitable.

This research is part of a project launched in 2010 called “Climate Change in the Los Angeles Region,” led by Alex Hall, Ph.D., professor of atmospheric and oceanic sciences at UCLA. The U.S. National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Energy and the city and county of Los Angeles jointly funded the project.

Hall provided testimony at the California Senate Select Committee hearing on climate change and on the implementation of Assembly Bill 32 (AB 32), also known as the Global Warming Solutions Act.

Enacted in 2006, AB 32 mandates a strategy for the state to achieve 1990 levels of greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. The AB 32 Scoping Plan, adopted in 2008, has achieved various successes, according to testimony offered to the committee by Steven Cliff, Ph.D. of the California Air Resources Board (ARB).

Cliff highlighted the following successes of the scoping plan to date: a comprehensive suite of strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions applied to all industry sectors; renewable energy sources accounting for 22 percent of the state’s electricity; positioning as a global leader in energy efficiency; implementation of a world renowned cap-and-trade program; zero-emission vehicle regulation; displacement of more than a billion gallons of gasoline and diesel by renewable fuels; and sustainable transportation, land use and housing planning.

Hall’s testimony included results of his research group’s project to forecast future climate change impacts on the region – specifically regarding temperature and snowfall. Analysis of surface hydrology, including stream flow and runoff, precipitation, the Santa Ana winds and fire risk, are still underway. More information is available at http://c-change.la.

Hall and his team estimate an average increase in temperature of 4.6 degrees Fahrenheit across the L.A. region by mid-century under a business-as-usual scenario. Higher elevations and inland areas separated from the ocean by at least one mountain range are expected to warm 20 to 50 percent more than areas within the L.A. basin. The number of extreme heat days – which bring temperatures above 95 degrees Fahrenheit – is projected to increase across the board.

Following a similar pattern with average temperature increase, inland areas are expected to experience many more hot days than those on the coast. In Hall’s testimony, research indicates that “Santa Barbara sees average annual extreme heat days rise from five in the baseline period to more than 12 at mid-century under business-as-usual. By contrast, Riverside sees an increase from 58 days to 103 days.”

Compared to the mitigation scenario, only slightly less warming occurs and a flatter increase in extreme heat days occurs. “The warming under mitigation at mid-century is about 70 percent of the warming under business-as-usual,” according to Hall’s testimony. “Put another way, this means 70 percent of the business-as-usual warming is inevitable.”

With regard to snowfall, Hall and his team project total snowfall to drop “substantially” below the base level. Following business-as-usual, only 58 percent of baseline snowfall will remain. Under mitigation, the baseline is only somewhat higher at about 69 percent.

Remaining on a business-as-usual trajectory through end-century would likely result in “a complete disappearance of snowfall at lower elevations,” according to Hall’s testimony, while mitigation would keep snowfall nearly flat with mid-century levels by end-century.

Sen. Ted Lieu (D-Torrance), who participated in the hearing on climate change and AB 32, told the Business Journal he heard “very powerful testimony that shows conclusively that climate change is happening and it will have an effect on Southern California including higher temperatures, reduced water supply and more severe weather.

“There is nothing we can do right now to prevent the earth from heating up,” Lieu said, and he understands that existing climate impacts won’t reverse, “even if we were to go dark tomorrow and not use any electricity.”

To navigate mitigation for the future, the AB 32 Scoping Plan is currently being updated with environmental goals and a policy report to set a framework to move beyond 2020. A revised plan and an environmental assessment are slated for release in late January for a 45-day public comment period. The ARB has scheduled hearings in mid-February to review the information, and by spring the board will review comments and consider an updated plan for approval.

One of the major programs of AB 32 is known as cap-and-trade, which puts a limit on the total greenhouse gas emissions of regulated sources. While the cap declines over time, operations under the cap must reduce below the current threshold of 25,000 metric tons or meet that threshold by buying state-issued greenhouse gas emissions allowances at auctions. The allowances bring down the cost of compliance. The program forces industries to be innovative in their production methods, requiring investment in new, clean technology.

“It is clear that because of AB 32, of which I was a co-author,” Lieu said, “California is a recognized leader in terms of climate mitigation. That in of itself has attracted not only the best and brightest minds in climate change, but also companies that came here and started to invest in clean and green energy. It’s opened up a whole new realm for businesses to invest in and compete in.”

The cap-and-trade program is being linked with a similar program in Quebec, Canada, starting January 1. Quebec held an auction December 3, and the next California auction is in February, according to ARB Spokesperson David Clegern. Both parties will finalize any amendments to the program by spring and will hold their first joint auction next year.

While some business advocates against the cap-and-trade law, like the California Manufacturing and Technology Association, feel the costs are prohibitive to business and technology is not yet in place for business to adapt, Lieu said his view is that companies under the cap-and-trade program and other emitters need to factor into their product the “true cost” of doing business.

“They are not internalizing the damage being caused to the environment by their product,” Lieu said. “If we are going to have to spend all of this money adapting to a hotter earth, they have to pay for that and make the product more reflective of the cost to the environment.”