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Latest IPCC Report Emphasizes Baked-In Climate Impacts, Need for Adaptation Now

The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is a group of the world’s top scientists that issues three major reports on climate change every five to seven years. These reports play a crucial role in informing international approaches to climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies. The latest report, released Monday, February 28th, conveys a strong sense of urgency and emphasizes the need to adapt to a warming planet. This report states that even if we immediately reduce greenhouse gasses as much as possible, significant impacts will still take place, elevating the need to begin adaptation planning now.

In regards to sea level rise, the IPCC report agrees with the predictions of California’s Ocean Protection Council and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that America’s coastline will experience the same amount of sea level rise in the next 30 years as it has in the entire 20th century. NOAA also projects that seasonal and 100-year storm events will become more frequent and severe, compounding the inundation threat to both nature and our communities. This all means that San Francisco Bay will be tremendously impacted by rising sea levels, making adaptation more critical than ever. 

“We’re concerned that sea level rise is like a slow moving freight train,” said Arthur Feinstein, Chair of the Sierra Club Bay Alive campaign. “For most people, in their day-to-day lives, the dangers are not obvious, so local decision-makers like city councils have difficulty in investing in this future danger. To address this collective action problem, the Bay Area needs to start planning immediately and holistically at the regional level for what this means for all our cities, our vital infrastructure, and especially for the bay edge areas where some of our most vulnerable populations live.”

The San Francisco Bay, the largest estuary on the west coast of both North and South Americas, is alive with complex ecosystems, essential to the ecology of California. Sea level rise poses a major threat to the health of these critical ecosystems, as well as our vulnerable communities and infrastructure in low lying areas. Traditional “armored” strategies such as vertical sea walls or concrete levees may provide localized relief, but they in fact compound the effects of sea level rise on neighboring and even distant communities. Nature-based solutions, such as salt marsh and beach restoration, provide more sustainable, equitable, and long term solutions. Tidal wetlands, for example, serve as habitat for important species, including many of our commercial fisheries, and also provide protection to communities from flooding, groundwater rise, and many of the negative impacts of sea level rise. 

Protecting low lying areas along the Bay shoreline from further development is especially important to protect communities from severe flooding due to sea level rise. Keeping these areas undeveloped also provides space for the expansion of essential wetlands as sea-level rise advances.

Sierra Club Bay Alive Campaign volunteer Gita Dev says: “It is time for our local governments to look to nature-based adaptation solutions wherever possible, harnessing the power of nature for resilience, and it is critically important for our state and federal legislators to start directing as much money as possible to fund sea level rise adaptation strategies in San Francisco Bay. With a shoreline that is almost half the length of California’s entire coast, and which is home to over 100 communities, the cost for adapting to sea level rise will be enormous. The IPCC report makes it clear that we need to start this adaptation process immediately. We all need to tell our legislators that this must be an urgent priority if we wish to save a living Bay and healthy communities in the future — and that future is sooner than we used to think.”

About the Sierra Club Bay Alive campaign: 

The Sierra Club Bay Alive Campaign is organized by the three Sierra Club Chapters that together encircle San Francisco Bay. Bay Alive is committed to implementing sustainable solutions and adaptations to sea level rise around the Bay, keeping the Bay ecosystems alive, healthy, and resilient. Our mission is to work towards a regional solution to this shared threat while also providing cities, agencies and the general  public with critically needed information on using nature-based adaptation strategies to create living shorelines, healthy waters and economically beneficial solutions to sea level rise. The health of our communities, our wildlife, and our Earth depend on urgent action not only to mitigate, but also to adapt to climate-driven threats with resilient solutions.


Photo by Kelly Sikkema.


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