Few Surprises as Climate Symposium Opens

A broad spectrum of scientists, entrepreneurs and public officials are meeting in Sacramento this week for the sixth annual Climate Change Research Symposium, sponsored by the California Energy Commission (CEC).

Today and tomorrow are packed with technical lectures on topics ranging from “Decadal Changes in the El Nino Pattern and Impact on the Hydroclimate…” to “Climate and Wine Grape Phenology in Napa Valley.” But yesterday it was up to the policy honchos to set the scene.

There was little in that preamble that hasn’t been heard before. When asked about recently expressed doubts that the state’s utilities can attain a one-third proportion of renewable energy within the next decade, air board chief Mary Nichols said “Not only can we do it, we have to do it.” Nichols, probably the state’s highest-profile point-person on climate policy,  said the the state’s broader, longer-range goal for cutting greenhouse gas emissions simply can’t be achieved without it.

Just as if they’d heard her, legislators tonight passed SB 14 out of committee. The bill requires utilities to meet the 33% renewable portfolio standard (RPS) by 2020 (in other words, to derive a third of their power from low-carbon sources). Green energy activists lamented language in the current version that allows utilities to slip that deadline, if there are delays in bringing new renewable energy sources online.

There was a clear signal from yesterday’s symposium speakers that, as we’ve previously discussed in this space, adaptation is taking center stage on the policy front. California has set targets for “mitigation” of global warming and put some of the wheels in motion. Now attention has turned to preparing for inevitable climate change effects, already in the pipeline.

The CEC’s newest Commissioner, Julia Levin, warned against the onset of “NIMBY” syndrome as measures are implemented across the state, such as the build-out of solar and wind “farms.”

And Stanford scientist Chris Field, who heads the IPCC’s Working Group II, noted that while growing interest in the “other” greenhouse gases (methane, nitrous oxides, etc.) is justified, the focus should remain on controlling carbon dioxide.  “As long as the world maintains an aggressive focus on economic growth,” said Field, “It’s the economic growth that’s the driver of future emissions and that’s why strategies to find ways to grow the economy without increasing carbon emissions are so important.” While some of the other gases are more potent greenhouse gases, Field says they’ll see little or no growth in volume in coming years.

Field previewed some of what he sees as the focal points of the next major IPCC climate report, known as AR5. Field predicted that we’ll see a shift in focus from making the case that global warming is real and human-induced, to providing more and better information that “stakeholders” can act upon. Field cited a recent study projecting that corn yields in Africa could fall 30% by 2040, due to climate forces.

Few Surprises as Climate Symposium Opens 9 September,2009Craig Miller

One thought on “Few Surprises as Climate Symposium Opens”

  1. Uh, News Flash – With some multi-century long variations the earth has been getting warmer since the end of the last ice age. The period we are in now is called an “inter-glacial period”. Gee… I wonder what that means?

    I suppose that’s why the enviros put a new wrapping of “Climate Change” (imagine, the weather changing – who knew?) on that dead fish of “Global Warming”.

    Going Green has gone too far.

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Craig Miller

Craig is a former KQED Science editor, specializing in weather, climate, water & energy issues, with a little seismology thrown in just to shake things up. Prior to that, he launched and led the station's award-winning multimedia project, Climate Watch. Craig is also an accomplished writer/producer of television documentaries, with a focus on natural resource issues.

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