California Agency Heads Debut the 2021 Climate Adaptation Strategy

Alice Reynolds

With current snowpack in the Sierras a mere 38 percent of what is normal, there is no doubt that climate crisis impacts are hitting the state of California hard. Through an all of government approach, the state has just released its new 2021 Climate Adaptation Strategy. In this roundtable excerpted by VX News, California's Natural Resources Secretary, Wade Crowfoot; Senior Climate Advisor to the Governor, Lauren Sanchez; California Public Utilities Commission President, Alice Reynolds (Pictured); Cal Office of Emergency Services Deputy Director, Christina Curry; and the Governor's Office of Business and Economic Development Director, Dee Dee Myers all discuss how their respective offices are contributing to this climate movement. A link to the full roundtable can be found here.

Wade Crowfoot: We are joined by numerous leaders across the Newsom administration. We are excited to be here all together as we launch our updated California Climate Adaptation Strategy. Almost 1000 leaders from across California are joining us in this hour long discussion today, as well as secretaries across the Newsom administration.

We'll start by sharing a broad adaptation of the strategy.... And then we have a range of colleagues to highlight the six guiding priorities of our adaptation strategy.

Before we dive in …, I'm excited to introduce our colleague in the Governor's office, Lauren Sanchez. Lauren serves as the Governor's Senior Climate Advisor and is our quarterback of all things we do on climate.

Lauren Sanchez: Really thrilled to be here today. The world's leading climate scientists have made it clear: our window to avoid the worst impacts of the climate crisis is narrowing faster than expected, and success requires unprecedented collective effort and transformational change.

California’s early climate action focused on stopping the problem, or climate mitigation. Protecting people and nature from the impacts of climate change felt like a future planning exercise. As all of you who joined us today know, that is no longer the world we live in. Catastrophic wildfires, severe drought, a vanishing Sierra snowpack, extreme heat projections, and rising sea levels leave no doubt the climate crisis is here, and California is on the frontlines.

Just today, leading global scientists at the IPCC released a report that underscores this assessment. The lead authors summarize their findings by saying it's now or never. The choices we make today matter. Over a dozen state agencies are here to make it clear: California's choosing action and hope. Our approach to climate adaptation has evolved to reflect the existential threat we now face. Our climate adaptation strategy underscores the Governor's commitment to building a more equitable and thriving future, especially for communities that have been left out or left behind.

Wade Crowfoot: Just a little bit of more on why a Climate Adaptation Strategy. You may know that our state government issued our first Adaptation Strategy back in 2009, and then again in 2014 and 2018. In 2015, the legislature made it a requirement of state law that every three years our state agencies update an adaptation strategy.

As Lauren mentioned, this has gone from what seemed like a future planning exercise to a matter of protecting our residents, our communities, and our natural places from climate threats that are already here.

We're really excited to share with you the Adaptation Strategy. Now, since the last climate adaptation strategy, it's clear that our departments have been advancing climate resilience action across sectors. We've developed a range of specific plans and strategies to address different threats and opportunities. For example, the Water Resilience Portfolio that several agencies worked on to address drought and flooding threats, the California Action Plan for Transportation and Infrastructure, and the Wildfire and Forest Resilience Action Plan. All of these very specific, and there's obviously a lot more where that came from in terms of specific strategies and actions to build our climate resilience.

This latest update of the Climate Adaptation Plan weaves together these sectorally-focused efforts already underway and underscores California's ambitious all-of-government approach. Nearly 38 State Departments contributed to this strategy and will be responsible for implementing it.

This represents an all-hands-on-deck approach. These are just state agencies that are collaborating together on this strategy. Of course, there are so many departments and entities in addition to those high-level agencies that have been figured in. This strategy is that high level framework that brings together all of the different efforts that are being exercised across state government, identifying how collective efforts will actually build our climate resilience.

 Just a little bit about this climate adaptation plan. Of course, by this Climate Adaptation Strategy, we talk about helping California adjust and weather the changes that are being driven by climate change. First, there are six guiding priorities that are meant to define all of the adaptation actions that we're taking, regardless of what sector. Second, the adaptation strategy includes 150 specific actions under the six priorities, where there is a responsible agency and timeframe for taking action, holding ourselves accountable for advancing these six priorities. Third, as I mentioned, there are time-bound metrics for success and achievement, because we want this to be a focusing exercise toward continuing to make progress building our climate resilience. Fourth, we have shifted the presentation of the strategy. In the past, the plan lived as a document. Our staff had this great idea to help this be more of a living adaptive strategy by creating an interactive website where the strategy lives. That website is

I'm going to conclude by thanking everybody that's contributed to this effort. The Governor's Office of Planning and Research, the Natural Resources Agency and their incredible staff were coordinating the 38 different departments that all figured in. A big thanks to the leaders who are going to talk here today and their teams.

We want to thank you if you participated in the numerous forms of outreach for us to get input on this adaptation strategy. We want to thank you for your ideas and suggestions. They are very much reflected in this final version that we're launching here. There were numerous regional workshops, government to government consultations with California tribes, listening sessions, comments on the written draft, etc.

Also, a huge thanks to the governor's office, the administration, and the legislature. You are true partners in all of this adaptation work. In fact, the legislature is responsible for funding and enabling a lot of the work that is already underway. It's clear that meeting the challenge of climate change is going to require partnerships and collaboration like never before. We're really excited to launch this strategy and advance our work together.

Alice Reynolds: I wanted to start by expressing my appreciation for the California Natural Resources Agency for your leadership on this really important strategy. At the California Public Utilities Commission, we are looking forward to working together with all of our state partners and with members of the public on implementation of this strategy.

Much of the work that we do at the CPUC is focused on fostering innovation from the energy industry, from our work to decarbonize the electrical grid to transforming the market for electrification. Over time, the Commission's programs have helped California achieve an electric generation mix that today is more than 60 percent carbon free and reduced carbon emissions from the energy sector by more than 40 percent compared to 2006.

As we're talking about here today, we are acutely aware that climate change is impacting California and the world. It's hitting our communities harder and more quickly than we anticipated and in ways that are hard to anticipate. Energy utility infrastructure is impacted by climate change-driven impacts. To bolster public health and safety, it must keep up with the changes we're seeing.

To give you a few examples. California is experiencing impacts from climate change, such as rising sea levels that can potentially inundate power plants and substations, increased temperatures that can cause additional strain on transformers, increased line losses between electric generators, and increased overall electric demand for air conditioning during heat waves. Thoughtful, forward-looking, and evidence-based climate adaptation planning for all our utilities in a time of worsening climate impacts is a critical next step to ensure reliability and the health and safety of the public.

The California climate adaptation strategy released today incorporates one of the ways that the CPUC is doing this through its climate adaptation proceeding. Specifically, the commission has ordered the energy utilities to lead a process of community engagement with disadvantaged and vulnerable communities as they develop vulnerability assessments due to climate change impacts. The assessments will be filed every four years on a staggered basis to inform investments to mitigate climate risks to utility operations, services, and assets.

California is in a unique moment. We are clear on where we must end up, but to some extent, we're charting the path as we go based on technology development, ability to scale market forces, consumer choices, regulatory analyses, modeling, and decision-making. As we move forward on this path, we must do all we can to ensure that providers of energy services are ready for climate change impacts and acting with eyes on communities, especially our most vulnerable frontline communities as we face the new Climate Reality.


Christina Curry: Cal OES, or the Governor's Office of Emergency Services, is extremely proud to partner on the state's Climate Adaptation Strategy. In fact, our partnership on this project goes back to the very original version that Secretary Crowfoot mentioned in 2009. That's because there is an absolute connection between emergency management, disaster risk resilience, and climate adaptation. We've recognized that here in California. Likewise, our commitment to disaster risk resilience, or the California State Hazard Mitigation Plan, has also had more than a decade-long connectivity to that adaptation strategy. Those two things will always coexist here in California. In fact, that connection is so important that the legislature charged Cal OES with developing something called the Adaptation Planning Guide, which builds directly off the strategy that we're launching today and becomes the How-to in planning throughout California.

Beyond planning, Cal OES is working to leverage every federal dollar in disaster risk resilience that we can secure in addition to state funds. We have, in this past year, invested state dollars in wildfire home hardening to get dollars out into the community level to make homes more wildfire resistant. We're hoping to match that with federal dollars to make that go further and to harden even more homes.

All risks, whether it's flood, drought, wildfire, sea level rise, all those things that are articulated in this strategy, we want to make sure we're putting dollars behind that. As part of the federal government's availability of funds for risk resilience, California has applied for 1/4 or $250 million of the $1 billion available for building resilient infrastructure and community programming at the federal level. On behalf of our communities, we’re securing and continuing to maximize the dollar investments towards climate adaptation and climate resilience.

As was mentioned earlier, disasters and emergencies disproportionately affect our disadvantaged communities. Cal OES is further investing permanently into equity through a new Office of Equity that we're standing up. That's going to make sure that we continue to program these important dollars and these important investments toward resilience, whether it's funds, resources, or services, with purpose, to areas where they are needed most.

Dee Dee Myers: It’s great to be with you all and to be rolling out this strategy, which is so critical to everything, including our economy. I'm the director of the Governor's Office of Business and Economic Development (GO-Biz). We are the main portal for businesses to connect with state incentives and state opportunities, as well as creating a climate where businesses can invest and grow and create jobs into the future.

A key priority of both the Governor's January budget and this Climate Adaptation Strategy is creating that equitable and broad-based recovery coming out of the pandemic, but also looking ahead. We need to create clean jobs of the future. The administration knows that we can do that as we build climate resilience.

We work closely with the Department of Labor and Workforce Development on a number of things, including our Community Economic Resilience Fund or CERF, which is a regional planning effort that looks specifically at creating resilient communities bottom up, making sure they’re inclusive and making sure that nobody is left behind. We’re focusing on the communities that are hardest hit, and that will be an ongoing effort.

The other specific program that we have at GO-Biz is IBank, which provides low-cost loans to both public and private enterprises. We have a $47 million fund that’s part of that the climate catalyst program that can help bring to scale, among other things, a thriving forest and wood products market in California. The climate catalyst program has been designed to do specific things. In particular, to jumpstart critical climate solutions through flexible, low-cost credit and credit support, help bridge the financing gap that currently prevents these advanced technologies from scaling in the marketplace, mobilize public and private finance for shovel-ready projects that are stuck in the deployment phase, and accelerate the speed and scale at which technologically-proven critical climate solutions can be deployed.

The IBank has already established a webpage to receive inquiries of potential financing opportunities. Marketing and outreach began two months ago, and we've already received more than 40 initial inquiries that we're in the process of reviewing.

Beyond that specific program, we're incredibly excited by the scope of the Climate Action Strategy and particularly how it will fuel our economic recovery and climate resilience, continuing California's leadership across the country and the world. We know and we believe down to our bones that what's good for the climate can also be great for our economy. Our team at GO-Biz looks forward to supporting that vision of an updated climate adaptation strategy in every way possible.

“California is in a unique moment. We are clear on where we must end up, but to some extent, we're charting the path as we go based on technology development, ability to scale market forces, consumer choices, regulatory analyses, modeling, and decision-making.” -Alice Reynolds, CPUC President
“We know and we believe down to our bones that what's good for the climate can also be great for our economy.” -Dee Dee Myers, GO-Biz Director