L.A. County faces $12.5 Billion in climate costs through 2040

First-of-its-kind report estimates Los Angeles County needs to invest billions of dollars by 2040 to protect residents from worsening climate risks, including extreme heat, increased precipitation, worsening wildfires, sea level rise, and climate-induced public health threats. .

The report, released this week by the nonprofit Center for Climate Integrity, identified 14 different climate adaptation measures that the authors estimate would cost Los Angeles taxpayers at least $12.5 billion over the next 15 years, or approximately $780 million per year. The vast majority of these costs – more than $9 billion – will be borne by local municipal governments, including the cities of Los Angeles, Long Beach and Santa Clarita, the report said.

“These numbers don’t include the costs of rebuilding after disasters — extreme weather events that knock out power or damage infrastructure or cause all sorts of things,” said Richard Wiles, president of the Center for Climate Integrity. “So it’s a very conservative estimate, and yet it’s a very significant number.”

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Wiles said the costs for Los Angeles County are almost as high as for the entire state of Pennsylvania, which faces about $15 billion in climate adaptation costs over roughly the same period. .

“It’s a big number, but it’s going to happen,” he said. “These costs will be incurred at some point, and it is simply better to pay now than to pay later. I cannot stress this enough.

The most costly adaptation categories are related to precipitation and heat, including approximately $4.3 billion for improved stormwater management, $2.5 billion for investments in cool pavements, and 1.4 billion dollars for forest cover to combat urban heat islands, according to the report. Other costs include wildfire mitigation; coastal defense and infrastructure protection; building improvements for cooling and air conditioning; and responses to vector-borne diseases such as West Nile virus.

County officials said the results were not surprising and agreed they might even be conservative given the magnitude of the threats.

“Climate impacts have become increasingly visible over the last few years in particular,” said Los Angeles County Chief Sustainability Officer Rita Kampalath. “We know that we are facing some truly enormous needs in terms of how we prepare our communities to cope and be resilient in the face of increasing climate impacts. From now on, it will only increase.

Stormwater capture in particular has been on the minds of many Angelenos this winter as record rainfall hit the region. In February, a monster storm saw the Los Angeles River come to life and spill millions of gallons into the Pacific Ocean.

But the river – which was covered in concrete nearly a hundred years ago – and other local flood channels will be no match for future storms made worse by climate change. Even though the long-term trend in the West is toward warmer, drier conditions, Los Angeles will still experience bouts of severe storms and extremely wet years that will significantly increase flood risk, according to the Fourth Change Assessment state climate.

To mitigate these impacts, the county must expand its stormwater drainage infrastructure by installing bioswales, porous pavement and other opportunities to allow stormwater to infiltrate into the ground, according to the report. He noted that these “green infrastructure” improvements are the least expensive option for dealing with extreme rainfall, as opposed to increasing the size and scale of hard infrastructure such as drainage pipes.

The county is making progress on this work through its Safe Drinking Water Program, passed by voters as Measure W in 2018, Kampalath said. The program allocates about $280 million a year to stormwater capture projects, although recent reports have found that progress so far has been slow.

“While this is a great need, I feel like the county has invested, and our residents and constituents in particular have shown that this is a great priority,” he said. she declared. “We’re not as far as we’d like – it’s hard to say that about anything on climate – but I think we have resources to try to meet some of these needs. »

Meanwhile, extreme heat continues to pose a significant threat to Los Angeles County residents, and it will only get worse in the years and decades to come. The region is expected to experience an average of 48.5 days above 90 degrees per year between 2024 and 2040, the report said. This represents approximately 12.5 more hot days per year than communities experienced between 1994 and 2013.

Some of the best methods to combat the dangers of rising heat include installing cool sidewalks, expanding urban green spaces, painting railroad tracks with reflective paint to keep them at operating temperatures and improving cooling systems in public buildings such as schools, the report said. Converting public parking lots into cool sidewalks that reflect rather than absorb sunlight can also help lower ambient temperatures.

Heat is “the impact that most affects communities of color and people who are less able to adapt and adapt to their personal lives,” Wiles said. He noted that some urban areas can simmer up to 20 degrees warmer than surrounding neighborhoods with a heavy tree canopy.

“From a public health perspective, these types of adaptations are increasingly essential just to make neighborhoods livable,” he said.

The report comes at a time when the state faces a significant budget shortfall of $37.9 billion, prompting Gov. Gavin Newsom to cut $2.9 billion from California’s climate programs, delay 1 .9 billion dollars and to transfer 1.8 billion dollars to other funds.

Kampalath said it was too early to tell whether these reductions would impact Los Angeles County’s climate efforts, but they could potentially affect funds officials hoped to benefit from through grants and other programs.

However, she noted that many of the county’s climate adaptation strategies can have multiple benefits, such as forest canopy programs that help combat heat and improve stormwater management simultaneously.

“As we look at how to address these impacts, we need to think about a multi-benefit approach and what kind of strategies we can put in place to really address a wide range of issues, not just climate change. , but also impacts on biodiversity and health as well as the well-being of our communities,” she said.

Ultimately, funding for the projects outlined in the report will come from taxpayers, whether at the municipal, state or federal level, Wiles said. But he also hopes that oil and gas companies will be held accountable for their role in worsening the climate crisis, as fossil fuel emissions are by far the biggest driver of global warming.

Last year, California filed an explosive lawsuit against five of the largest oil and gas companies over their alleged “decades-long campaign of deception” about the risks posed by fossil fuels, which forced the State to spend billions of dollars to fight the environment. related damage. State Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta is seeking to create a nuisance abatement fund to finance, among other things, climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts.

“Every community in Los Angeles County should consider taking similar legal action to hold climate polluters accountable and ensure that taxpayers are not left alone to foot the bill,” the report states.

Indeed, there are other climate hazards that will cost Angelenos billions in adaptation spending over the next fifteen years, according to the report.

They include an increase in vector-borne diseases such as West Nile virus, as more mosquitoes are attracted to changes in temperatures and precipitation in the region. About 500,000 new cases of the virus are expected in the county by 2040, costing about $993 million to treat. Climate change will also lead to an increase in pediatric asthma cases due to increased pollen, with around 160,000 new cases expected by 2040.

The county also needs about $680 million for road improvements because heat and rain contribute to more cracks, erosion and loose surfaces. One foot of sea level rise along the Los Angeles County coast will require at least $576 million for berms, flood walls, riverbank stabilization and other infrastructure measures to prevent flooding and avoid damage to infrastructure by 2040.

Wildfires, which are already growing larger, faster and more frequent across California, will require nearly $1 billion just to clear vegetation and other fuels from the land around county infrastructure, according to the report. He noted that Los Angeles County will face an average of 36 more fire days by 2040 compared to the 1994 to 2013 baseline.

The estimated cost of the wildfires, estimated at $919 million, does not take into account firefighting or repairing fire damage. The 2018 Woolsey Fire alone generated between $3 billion and $5 billion in insured losses.

Wiles said the spending outlined in the report won’t solve climate change but will help “keep things where they are today,” or at least prevent the risks from getting worse.

He said he hopes the report will help guide county officials as they face difficult choices about where, how and what limited funds should be allocated. Investing in climate adaptation now can save money – and lives – later, he said.

“Those costs are still coming,” Wiles said. “The next disaster is going to happen. That’s exactly what it will cost to prepare.

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