California wildfire frequency could surge 50% by 2050, report finds

California wildfire frequency could surge 50% by 2050, report finds

30 August 2018

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USA – The deadly wildfires that devastated parts of California this summer may be a harbinger of more catastrophes if greenhouse-gas emissions keep rising.

That’s one finding of a report released this week assessing the impact of climate change on the Golden State.

California could face an almost 50% increase in the number of wildfires that burn more than 25,000 acres, and the average area burned across the state would rise by 77% by the end of the century if emission trends are not reversed, the report found.

The report, the fourth such assessment to be carried out since 2006, was produced by the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research, the State of California Energy Commission and the California Natural Resources Agency, and includes peer-reviewed academic research, technical reports, data sets and tools that aim to boost understanding of climate change.

California is the world’s fifth largest economy and has been hit by such extreme weather events in recent years as drought, wildfires and mudslides.

State efforts

“In California, facts and science still matter,” Gov. Jerry Brown said in a tweet on the report. “These findings are profoundly serious and will continue to guide us as we confront the apocalyptic threat of irreversible climate change.”

The 100-page report makes for grim, if predictable, reading and is meant to help state officials win public support for climate initiatives amid an uncertain federal-level policy response. Brown has been a vocal critic of President Donald Trump’s decision to pull the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Accord, which seeks to keep global warming over the century to 2 degrees Celsius. Insurers have warned that any greater warming could make the world uninsurable.

Trump weighed in on the California fires in an early August tweet that blamed the state’s water diversions for making the blazes worse. Experts were quick to refute Trump’s claim that water policy was to blame. While California’s river water is tightly managed to account for drinking, agriculture and environmental needs, it is not being diverted into the ocean, as MarketWatch reported at the time.

Drought, floods and beach erosion

“Increasing temperatures and rising sea levels will have direct impacts on public health and infrastructure,” the authors wrote.

“Drought, coastal and inland flooding, and wildfire will continue to affect people’s livelihoods and local economies,” they said. “Changing weather patterns and more extreme conditions will impact tourism and rural economies in California, along with changes to agriculture and crops, which are a critical backbone of California’s economic success.”

The economic costs of direct climate impacts by 2050 are expected to run to the tens of billions of dollars as the state deals with increasing deaths, damage to coastal properties and the potential for droughts and major flooding.

Heat waves could lead to up to three times as many deaths by 2050. A new model estimates that under midscale to high sea-level rise estimates, up to 67% of Southern California beaches could be eroded by 2100.

“Statewide damages could reach nearly $17.9 billion from inundation of residential and commercial buildings under 50 cm [or about 20 inches] of sea-level rise, which is close to the 95th percentile of potential sea-level rise by the middle of this century,” said the report. “A 100-year coastal flood, on top of this level of sea-level rise, would almost double the costs.”

Most vulnerable

The elderly, the young and the homeless will be hit hardest. Many homeless people have no access to running water, cooling centers or air conditioning. The use of the latter is expected to greatly increase, but that, too, will increase the emissions that created rising temperatures in the first place and will also challenge the state’s electrical grid.

“Even when some have air conditioning, low-income groups may not use it during high-temperature events due to financial constraints,” said the authors.

The assessment includes regional reports for the first time and examines the unique challenges facing tribal and indigenous communities, many of whom rely on traditional resources such as salmon fisheries for social and economic purposes.

Tribal communities often lack the infrastructure to combat extreme heat and other conditions, lack the money to pay higher energy prices and, in rural areas, have limited access to medical facilities.

Wildfire is a special risk because tribal lands are fixed and based on longstanding legal agreements.

“Where these tribal lands are subject to climate impacts that could make land uninhabitable, tribes could be forced to relocate as a last resort after efforts are made to adapt. In all cases relocation to new tribal lands — often federal trust land — is administratively difficult, prohibitively expensive, takes years or decades to accomplish, and is fraught with cultural, social, and economic upheaval,” said the report.

Among environmentally oriented exchange-traded funds, the Invesco Global Clean Energy ETF PBD, +0.02% was up 0.9% Tuesday but has fallen 8% in 2018. The Invesco Water Resources PHO, +0.47% was down 0.2%, but has gained 5% in 2018. The S&P 500 SPX, +0.57% has gained 8% in 2018, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA, +0.23% has gained 5%.

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