CARB addresses California’s increasingly severe climate impacts.

By Joshua T. Bledsoe and Kevin Homrighausen

On May 10, 2022, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) released its Draft 2022 Scoping Plan Update (Draft Scoping Plan) for public review and comment. Assembly Bill 32, the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, requires CARB to develop and update every five years a scoping plan that describes the approach California will take to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to achieve the goal of reducing emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. Senate Bill 32 subsequently strengthened the state’s GHG emissions reductions target to at least 40% below 1990 levels by 2030.

Latham & Watkins’ first post in this series discusses CARB’s Proposed Scenario to achieve the state’s GHG targets, which adopts a carbon neutrality target for 2045. The second post discusses how the Cap-and-Trade Program features in the Draft Scoping Plan. The third post discussed how California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) Program factors into the state’s GHG reduction goals and how the LCFS Program may be amended in the near future. This fourth and final post describes how the Draft Scoping Plan responds to some of California’s most significant climate impacts, like wildfires, drought, and extreme heat.

Climate Impacts

The Draft Scoping Plan begins by highlighting many of the growing climate change impacts that Californians are already experiencing. For example, the Draft Scoping Plan describes the growing threat that severe wildfire poses in California and notes that of the 20 largest wildfires ever recorded in California, nine of them occurred in 2020 and 2021. Indeed, 2020 was the worst recorded wildfire season in California, burning more than 4.3 million acres, damaging or destroying 11,000 structures, and resulting in US$12 billion dollars of property loss and fire suppression costs. Critically, in 2020, wildfires emitted 12 million metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere, which is almost more than twice the annual GHG emissions of California’s cement production industry.

The Draft Scoping Plan also notes that more than 37 million Californians are affected by drought, and, as of March 2022, 87% of California was in severe drought, and 100% of the state was in at least moderate drought. The Draft Scoping Plan notes that within this ongoing “megadrought,” the past 22 years have represented the southwest United States’ driest period since at least 800 CE. In 2021, the drought’s impacts on California’s agricultural sector resulted in fallowing nearly 400,000 acres of fields, crop revenue losses of US$962 million, and total economic impacts over US$1.7 billion. The drought also has severely impacted wildlife and caused water shortages and restrictions.

Finally, the Draft Scoping Plan acknowledges that extreme heat is a growing concern in California with 2021 being the hottest summer on record and Death Valley recording the world’s highest reliably measured temperature (130°F) in July 2021. The Draft Scoping Plan indicates that daily maximum average temperature is expected to rise 4.4°F–5.8°F by 2050 and 5.6°F–8.8°F by 2100. According to the Draft Scoping Plan, heat is among the deadliest of all climate hazards in California, and heat waves in cities are projected to cause two to three times more heat-related deaths by mid-century.

Climate Strategies

The Draft Scoping Plan notes that as climate change increases the likelihood of extreme wildfires, drought, heat, and other impacts, carbon stocks in California’s “natural and working lands” will face increased risks and impacts. Accordingly, the Draft Scoping Plan includes a number of strategies in the Proposed Scenario to respond to California’s growing climate impacts, while also helping the state achieve its GHG emissions reduction goals. These include:

  • Treating 2–2.5 million acres of forests, shrublands/chaparral, and grasslands annually with regionally specific management strategies, including prescribed fires, thinning, harvesting, and other management actions. The Draft Scoping Plan anticipates that these activities will restore health and resilience to overstocked forests, prevent carbon losses from severe wildfire, reduce health costs related to wildfire emissions, and improve water quantity and quality.
  • Implementing “climate smart” practices, land easements, and conservation annually for certain crops and increasing organic agriculture to 20% of all cultivated acres by 2045. The Draft Scoping Plan indicates that these measures can increase soil water holding capacity while also reducing pesticide use.
  • In developed areas, increasing urban forestry investments by 20% above current levels and utilizing tree watering that is 30% less sensitive to drought. The Draft Scoping Plan indicates that these measures would increase urban tree canopy and shade cover while reducing heat island effects and supporting water infrastructure. The Draft Scoping Plan also notes that urban greening can also reduce fire risk by providing defensible space.

The Draft Scoping Plan notes that these strategies, along with reduced traffic pollution and other measures, can also provide significant health benefits to Californians. It indicates that reduced heat impacts, increased urban greening, reduced wildfire smoke inhalation, and increased food security can improve physical and mental health for adults and children, reduce a range of chronic illnesses, and promote improvements in life expectancy.