Commentary: Leading on Climate Means Leading with Science

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Climate Resolve's Executive Director Jonathan Parfrey on California's investment in climate science to help inform the state's future plans and decisions.

It's great to see that people are still applauding California Governor Jerry Brown's bold executive order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 40% below 1990 levels by 2030. California has earned its reputation for action on climate, with greenhouse-reducing efforts that are working to prepare the Golden State for the effects of climate change -- while growing our economy and improving the lives of Californians. But the call to action that hasn't been given as much attention as it deserves is the investment in climate science to help inform the state's future plans and decisions.


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It's why we are so excited to be participating in the California Climate Change Symposium 2015: Using Climate Science to Plan for a Resilient Future. By convening policy makers, state and local research managers, climate scientists, and innovators, we hope to facilitate the production, adoption, and application of climate science that will protect Californians from the inevitable effects of climate change.

If we continue to translate cutting-edge climate science into practical actions, we can ensure a better future for the Golden State and inform climate policy.

We know because we have already seen how climate science can lead us in L.A. To help understand the impacts of climate change in Los Angeles, we teamed up with the City of Los Angeles and UCLA's Institute of the Environment and Sustainability to publish a series of groundbreaking studies that reveal how climate change directly impacts Los Angeles. Using an innovative technique for applying global climate models to L.A. and the surrounding region to provide detailed projections of climate change, this research has brought climate projections down to the local level. Dr. Alex Hall and his team were able to identify local sources of greenhouse gas pollution and also predict how temperature, precipitation, and a diminishing snowcap will affect us in years to come.

One case in point: To predict future temperature for mid-century and end-of-century, Dr. Hall's team created a dynamical downscaling on five global climate models (GCMs) and statistical downscaling on 25 GCMs based on the relationship established by the dynamical downscales. They produced both low-carbon and business-as-usual scenarios. The ensemble mean for mid-century showed, regardless of high or low emission scenarios, a 3.5 degree increase in areas near the ocean, and a 4-5 degree increase in areas further inland. The low-emission, end-of-century scenario shows a slight decrease in temperature; where business-as-usual end-of-century scenario predicts much higher temperatures. The downscales went from the 100-200 kilometer cells of the GCMs down to 2 kilometers, thereby demonstrated how temperatures varied from neighborhood to neighborhood.

Unlike other parts of the nation, Southern California has many micro-climates -- born of our hills and mountains and exposure to the ocean -- so the 2-kilometer downscale proved very helpful for planners. Local data makes for smart local solutions. Using the temperature study organization, we worked in conjunction with the city and the LARC collaborative to determine how to best protect the people of Los Angeles from higher temperatures. First, we determined cost benefits of curbing urban heat island. We worked with then-Mayor Villaraigosa and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power to expand the incentive for cool roofs. Next, at the Mayor's directive, we worked with the Department of Building and Safety to expand the city building code to mandate the use of cool roofs in single-family homes.

The law on cool roofs and other heat-island measures was unanimously adopted by city council in December 2013, and signed by Mayor Eric Garcetti in January 2014. Mayor Garcetti has also recently announced a sustainability plan for the city that expands this good work by setting a goal to install 10,000 cool roofs by 2017, as part of the plan to reduce the city's temperature by 1.7 degrees by 2025. It's not just cool roofs that can help us curb the heat island effect. Our organization is also developing a cool streets pilot with the L.A. Department of Street Services, Lawrence Berkeley Labs, and Western Emulsions. The Department of Water and Power is about to coat a service yard in the San Fernando Valley with high albedo slurry.

Back to the science. Dr. Hall's downscaling study was an essential precursor to the cool roofs and heat island legislation and projects. The 2-kilometer downscales helped both the public and policymakers to understand the effects. Climate change was no longer a vague generalized idea -- it was specific and it meant Angelenos would be affected. The downscale studies on future precipitation and snowfall were also helpful on the policy front, as they implicitly argue for enhanced local water supply. As noted earlier, Dr. Hall's study, aligning with a great many other studies, predicts precipitation patterns to remain the same. Therefore, to be resilient in the face of climate change, the city needs to do a better job of conserving water, such as promoting the adoption of drought-tolerant plants outdoors, capturing more stormwater and recycling sewage water. Predictions of future precipitation gives confidence that these local measures are effective investments.

We believe that local action can -- and will -- have global impacts and we're proud of the Golden State's leadership on climate action. If we go where the science leads us, we will have a bright future. It's exciting to know we will continue to make more strides to find climate solutions to reduce greenhouse gases, save money, and improve the quality of life for Californians.

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