Climate Change Threatens California Economy by Changing Ecosystems

Climate Change Threatens California Economy by Changing Ecosystems

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Thursday, January 19, 2012

CONTACT: Erin McKenzie 
            (919) 613-3652

Jennifer Witherspoon
(415) 293-6067,

SAN FRANCISCO – Climate change is likely to harm California’s economy by reducing
the types of natural, non-irrigated vegetation available for livestock forage
and the ability of forest ecosystems to store carbon dioxide, according to a
peer-reviewed study published in the scientific journal Climatic Change. The
ability of ecosystems to store carbon dioxide is a key part of implementing the
state’s climate law, the Global Warming Solutions Act, also known as Assembly
Bill 32 or AB 32.

"Much of the talk about climate change in California has been
about the impacts of sea level rise and droughts," said study coauthor
 Linwood Pendleton,
director of ocean and coastal policy at
 Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions,
acting chief economist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
(NOAA) and study author. "Our work shows that even the gritty worlds of
cattle ranching and forestry may take it on the chin as California skies become
increasingly carbon-rich."

The study was conducted by researchers from Duke University,
Environmental Defense Fund, The Nature Conservancy, Conservation Biology
Institute, USDA Forest Service, Stanford University and the University of
California at Santa Barbara. It examines how climate change will impact the
fundamental character of California’s ecosystems and the valuable services that
they provide to the economy.

To analyze the impact to carbon sequestration and natural,
non-irrigated livestock forage—two important
ecosystem services that contribute to the state’s
economy—the researchers used
 climatic change scenario
models [PDF]
 from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
(IPCC) and three atmospheric-oceanic models.

The researchers identified that climate change would cause a
consistent decline in conifer woodlands and forests through the end of the
century that could decrease the amount of carbon storage in forestlands and
harm the forestry industry. They also determined that climate change is likely
to alter the amount and timing of rain, hail and snow in California, resulting
in a 15 to 70 percent increase in shrub lands and a consistent decline in
natural, non-irrigated forage production for livestock.

"A less stable climate will reduce the ability of natural
landscapes to support cattle grazing, so ranchers may have to grow or buy extra
hay instead of getting it for free from nature, as they do now," said lead
report author
Rebecca Shaw,
Ph.D., associate vice president of EDF's
 ecosystems program and
a working group member of the IPCC.

"We calculated that replacing lost forage caused by climate
change with extra hay will hike costs for the California ranching industry by up
to $235 million per year by 2070," said Shaw. "That’s why it's
important for policymakers to better understand the value of services that
nature provides to California's economy, so that they can work to protect our
natural resources and the economy in the face of climate change."

"Fortunately, California's Global Warming Solutions Act
provides new economic opportunities for landowners—both inside and outside
California—to be part of the climate solution," said economist Belinda Morris, a report coauthor and regional director of
EDF's Center for Conservation Incentives. "Landowners can earn credits for
capturing carbon on their land that they can sell to offset industrial carbon
emissions. These credits will bring in a whole new revenue stream that can
benefit the ranching industry, helping ranchers to keep ranching."

Carbon credits are an integral part of the carbon cap-and-trade
program that is scheduled to begin this year under the Global Warming Solutions
Act. It allows for 8 percent of the law's carbon emission reduction goals to be
achieved by offsetting emissions with carbon credits.

"EDF is working with landowners, academic institutions and
others to develop cost-effective methods for capturing carbon on rangelands
that could generate new revenue streams for ranchers as part of a carbon
credits market, while also improving soil fertility," Morris said.

The peer-reviewed study "The Impact of Climate Change on
California’s Ecosystem Services" is available online at