By: Wade Crowfoot, Secretary for Natural Resources
The climate crisis is here. Over the weekend, we witnessed the Caldor Fire burn rapidly, prompting evacuations throughout the Sierras and the Lake Tahoe Basin. The Caldor Fire has already destroyed 472 homes and continues to threaten 20,000 structures. Our wildfire risk is higher than ever amidst record temperatures and intense drought conditions. As Californians, we now see, feel and breathe what scientists have been telling us for decades: greenhouse gas pollution is warming our planet and driving extreme weather that threatens lives.
California is on the climate frontlines. The conditions we face right now were highlighted in the recent international IPCC report that put out a “code red” on climate change. In response, we need to demonstrate to the world how we can transition to carbon neutrality while building our climate resilience.
California has long been a global leader in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and transitioning to a carbon-neutral future. Our economy—the fifth largest in the world —has continued to grow while we have decreased carbon pollution. Just last month, the California Energy Commission adopted our country’s most ambitious building standards to decarbonize new buildings while our economy grew more jobs (over 114,000) than any other state. As Governor Newsom has explained, we need to continue to push ourselves to move further and faster toward carbon neutrality.
As we drive toward carbon neutrality, we can do more to protect our communities and natural environment from climate impacts that are already here. Right now, over 15,000 firefighters are battling wildfires across California and we’re supporting emergency drought response in 50 counties across our state. At the same time, state agencies are also taking actions that build our longer-term resilience to these threats.
Our administration is executing actions within our Water Resilience Portfolio and the Wildfire and Forest Resilience Action Plan to build resilience to drought, flooding and wildfire. And we’re preparing for sea level rise through implementing a Strategic Plan to Protect California’s Coast and Ocean and aligning around key Sea Level Rise Principles. Importantly, we’re also updating our state’s Extreme Heat Action Plan this year, to ensure adequate focus on this intensifying threat.
While taking separate actions to address each of these strategies is important, we recognize that these threats don’t occur in silos. And neither can our response. Our watersheds, for example, are impacted by both drought and wildfire, with consequences on both communities and natural places. We need to connect the dots between these threats and identify multi-benefit solutions that build our resilience to multiple threats. I’m particularly excited to advance nature-based solutions that can remove carbon the air and build resilience.
State law requires our Agency to partner with all state agencies to update California’s Climate Adaptation Strategy every three years. This responsibility, which used to feel a bit like a future planning exercise, has become essential to ensure we’re doing everything possible to protect people and nature from climate change. In partnership with the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research climate resilience program, and with feedback from groups and leaders across the state, we’re currently updating this Climate Adaptation Strategy. Later this year, we’ll release a draft of this strategic framework for public input. We’re eager to provide a cross-cutting strategy that will support regions, communities and residents across the state, particularly those most vulnerable to climate impacts.
While our climate challenges have never been more pressing, our state leaders—Governor Newsom and our legislature—fully recognize the threats we face. Right now in Sacramento, our leaders are discussing how to allocate an unprecedented amount of funding they have prioritized to build our resilience across California. And in turn, our agencies and our partner agencies are now hard at work translating these resources into actions on the ground that protect communities and natural places.
Much more work is ahead of us as climate change continues to unfold. A cohesive, coordinated response to the climate crisis, which connects the dots among all the challenges we face, has never been more important.