California has not been afraid to jump off the deep end when it comes to tackling some of the biggest environmental concerns of our era. With the 2006 Global Warming Solutions Act, otherwise known as AB 32, California was the first state to institute mandatory greenhouse gas emissions reductions. And Governor Arnold Schwarzeneggar has been right there with the Legislature. While AB 32 mandates a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, in 2005 the Governor called for even further reductions: 80% below 1990 levels by 2050. 

California is going full steam ahead with AB 32, and also SB 375, which implements a variety of land use and planning requirements and incentives to encourage urban development, decrease vehicle miles traveled, and ultimately reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  Meanwhile, Governor Schwarzeneggar is also planning for the worst case scenario. Executive Order S-13-08, released on October 14, 2008, addresses planning for the probable effects of climate change. The Executive Order makes the case that “the longer that California delays planning and adapting to sea level rise the more expensive and difficult adaptation will be.” This may sound like commonsense, but it’s also demonstrated by the numbers. As the Order points out, “billions of dollars in state funding for infrastructure and resource management projects are currently being encumbered in areas that are potentially vulnerable to future sea level rise.”

The Order tasks a conglomeration of state agencies with coordinating the preparation of a Sea Level Rise Assessment Report by December 2010. In the interim, all state agencies planning construction projects in vulnerable areas have to consider “a range of sea level rise scenarios for 2050 to 2100.” The vulnerability of a project must be assessed, and the agency must reduce risks and increase resiliency to sea level rise to the extent feasible. An agency is off the hook for this additional analysis if it has already issued a Notice of Preparation for an environmental impact report under the California Environmental Quality Act, or a project is programmed for construction funding in the next five years. 

The requirements of the Order do not bleed over into private development, but one has to wonder . . . will this additional level of analysis next be shifted to the private developer who proposes a project in a vulnerable coastal area? This would mean another layer of data to incorporate into a project’s environmental review, including information on local uplift and subsidence, coastal erosion rates, predicted higher high water levels, and storm surge and storm wave data. What would it take to reduce the risks associated with sea level rise for a project your company would like to undertake on the coast? How would you increase the project’s “resiliency” to sea level rise? We can’t put everything in the coastal zone on stilts, but what could be required of an individual project?


I know I’ll be looking for notice of the public workshop on the Sea Level Rise Assessment Report that has to take place before the end of next March.

Executive Order S-13-08 also goes beyond sea level rise. Climate change is likely to dramatically affect many resources in California. In that vein, the Order directs the Resources Agency and the Climate Action Team to develop a Climate Adaptation Strategy by the end of June 2009. Almost every state environmental and natural resources agency was given homework:


·         The Department of Water Resources will coordinate a water adaption strategy, with help from the State Water Resources Control Board

·         The Ocean Protection Council is responsible for an ocean and coastal resources adaptation strategy.

·         Caltrans will work on an infrastructure adaptation strategy.

·         Fish and Game and State Parks are in charge of the biodiversity adaptation strategy

·         The working landscapes strategy will be a joint effort by the Department of Forestry and the Department of Food and Agriculture.

·         And, last, but not least, a public health adaptation strategy will be coordinated by the Department of Public Health and the Air Resources Board


In addition, the Office of Planning and Research and the Resources Agency must provide state land-use planning guidance related to sea level rise and other climate change impacts by May 2009.