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July 31, 2012 

New Reports on California’s Vulnerability to Climate Change Highlight Dangers and Importance of Action

Studies Validate Previous Union of Concerned Scientists Findings on California

(July 31, 2012) — New scientific studies released today about the impacts of climate change in California will inform policymakers about the interventions necessary to reduce our vulnerability and increase our resiliency to a warming climate.

The reports released by the California Natural Resources Agency and the California Energy Commission reinforce the need for science-based action to adapt to changes already taking place in California: substantially higher temperatures, more extreme wildfires, and rising sea levels.

Validating previous studies published in 1999 and 2005 by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), the new data finds that temperatures in California have already risen and will continue to rise significantly during this century as a result of the heat-trapping gases humans release into the atmosphere. Because warming will be significantly greater with higher emissions than with lower emissions, the reports show that the climate choices we make today and in the coming years can have a profound impact on future conditions.

The findings from “Our Changing Climate 2012," by 26 research teams from the University of California system and other research groups, include:

  • Heat waves will be more frequent, hotter, and longer.
  • For the first time, several of the improved climate models shift toward drier conditions by the mid-to-late 21st century in Central and, most notably, Southern California.
  • The state’s electricity system is more vulnerable than was previously understood.
  • Wildfire risk in California will increase as a result of climate change.
  • The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is sinking, putting levees at growing risk.
  • Wind and waves, in addition to faster rising seas, will worsen coastal flooding.
  • The most vulnerable agricultural areas in the state are in the Salinas Valley, the corridor between Merced and Fresno, Imperial Valley and the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
  • Minority and low-income communities face the greatest risks from climate change.
  • There are effective ways to prepare for and manage climate change risks, but local governments face many barriers to adapting to climate change; these can be addressed so that California can continue to prosper.

Below is a statement from Adrienne Alvord, California and Western States director for the Union of Concerned Scientists:

“The studies released today clearly show that California faces a very daunting task, and that the longer we wait to take aggressive action to mitigate climate change as well as cope with the impacts we are already facing, the more dangerous and costly the situation will become.

“We applaud state officials for deploying science in the public interest to protect the environment, the economy and the public health of Californians from the impacts of climate change. Taking actions now to prepare ourselves in tandem with California’s pioneering efforts to reduce global warming emissions will enable us to better withstand the wide-ranging effects of climate change.

“These new reports make it clear that the risks we face will be worse or better depending on the changes we make now to lower global warming emissions. They confirm and expand upon the findings made in two previous UCS studies on California about the dangers we face from a warming climate, and offer concrete steps the California public and policymakers can take to safeguard vulnerable ecosystems while continuing to embrace the development of clean energy and transportation.”


The Union of Concerned Scientists puts rigorous, independent science to work to solve our planet's most pressing problems. Joining with citizens across the country, we combine technical analysis and effective advocacy to create innovative, practical solutions for a healthy, safe, and sustainable future.

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