Opinion: California is going back to nature to confront climate change

California’s bold leadership policies, from its trailblazing vehicle-emission limits to its expansion of solar energy and national-leading electric vehicle programs, are why so many nations and subnational governments at the recent United Nations climate change conference (COP 26) in Glasgow wanted to hear what we are doing next to address our warming climate.

One approach might not be as exciting as the latest sleek electric vehicle, but it is just as critical to reducing adverse effects on our population, wildlife and environment: We are going back to nature.

Mitigating greenhouse gas emissions has dominated climate change negotiations for years for the simple reason that without a decrease in the rate of rising temperatures, we are doomed. But the search for breakthrough technologies, increased battery power and storage, carbon capture, climate monitors and other innovations — while critically important and necessary — often overshadow nature-based solutions that can have profound impacts.

California’s latest state budget recognizes the importance of nature-based climate measures and increases our commitment to working with nature. It elevates making ecosystems more resilient as a key part of our climate strategy. The various packages dedicated to improving our environment in the budget represent a historic amount of funding for natural resources and environmental protection. It emphasizes statewide, what the San Jose City Council’s recent vote to protect Coyote Valley demonstrated, that natural and working lands provide climate resilient infrastructure and our worth preserving.

The budget includes $3.7 billion for climate resiliency, $1.5 billion for wildfire prevention and $4.7 billion for water and drought relief. We are allocating $208 million to state conservancies, including the San Francisco Bay Conservancy, to expedite wildfire prevention work, and a minimum of $60 million annually to all state conservancies for three years for climate resilience.

In the Sierra Nevada Conservancy, for example, some of those funds will go toward large-scale projects to restore watersheds throughout the 25-million-acre region. Other targeted areas in the state include beaches, dunes, fisheries and critical infrastructure that increase climate resilience. Enhancing wetlands will help mitigate flooding and sea level rise but also pulls carbon naturally from the atmosphere.

Our water and drought package includes more than $1 billion in nature-based solutions. The funds will also assist in the restoration of habitats to promote other native species. It enhances wildlife corridors, fish passages, stream flows and restores ecosystems across the state.

Last year, California wildfires burned over 4 million acres and released 112 million tons of greenhouse gases. Some, such as the CZU Complex Fire that ravaged Big Basin Park and parts of San Mateo and Santa Clara counties, were started by the 15,000 lightning strikes from one August storm. We are investing record amounts of funding on both wildfire prevention and mitigation.

In 2020, we signed an agreement with the U.S. Forest Service to partner on reducing fire risks by prioritizing public safety, using science to guide forest management and improving coordination. The passage of the Biden administration’s bipartisan infrastructure deal is more good news: It will provide more money for forest thinning, restoration and salary increases for federal firefighters who are grossly underpaid.

With a renewed and strengthened multi-year emphasis on natural solutions, California is combining modern innovations with the nurturing power of nature to confront our climate crisis today.

Bob Wieckowski represents the 10th District in the California State Senate. He was part of the California Senate delegation at the COP 26 U.N. Climate Change Conference in Scotland.

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Author: Bob Wieckowski

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