The California Energy Commission’s main role is to guide the state’s energy policy and planning. Since 1988, the Energy Commission has played a major role in the state’s climate change efforts. The Energy Commission has been conducting research on climate change through their Public Interest Energy Research Program-Environmental Area (PIER-EA) in an effort to reduce environmental impacts from energy production. Climate change research priorities supported by the PIER-EA include climate monitoring, analysis, and modeling; emissions inventory methods; options to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; and impacts and adaptation.


In 1988, the California Energy Commission became the lead agency on climate change under Assembly Bill 4420. In 2006, two other bills were passed: (1) Assembly Bill 32, which sets the level of greenhouse gas emissions in 1990 as the limit to be achieved by 2020, and (2) Senate Bill 1368, which requires the Public Utilities Commission and the Energy Commission to set emissions performance standards. Because of these bills, the Energy Commission developed the PIER-EA, which oversees and funds research priorities in California that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions, decrease climate change impacts, and improve environmental quality. The PIER-EA has four main research categories: 1) climate monitoring, analysis, and modeling; 2) greenhouse gas inventory; 3) reduction of greenhouse gas emissions; and 4) impacts and adaptation. In 2007, the Energy Commission funded approximately $2.4 million in climate change research.

The Energy Commission has also co-funded the development of Cal-Adapt, a tool that demonstrates the predicted impacts of climate change in California, including sea level rise, wildfire frequency, and snowpack projections. Cal-Adapt is intended to help decision makers visualize impacts in order to develop sound adaptation policies for the state.


The PIER-EA research falls under four main categories:

  1. Climate Monitoring, Analysis and Modeling – analyzing historical climate and key variables, comparing regional climate models, and scenario planning to provide decision makers with critical information for developing effective policies;
  2. Inventory Methods – improving methods to estimate greenhouse gas emissions in order to more accurately track emissions trends and properly develop reduction plans;
  3. Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions - developing a comprehensive plan to reduce emissions through a broad range of alternatives including carbon sequestration and non-CO2 gases; and
  4. Impacts and Adaptation – studying the potential impacts of climate change on ecological resources, water resources, and human health, and developing effective adaptation strategies to reduce impacts. Current focus areas include agricultural and forest resources, water resources, and preparing for climate change.

The PIER-EA has been a critical program in developing guidance and research to assess energy-related impacts and develop alternatives and adaptation strategies. Because all funded research is peer-reviewed, it has allowed innovative interaction and collaboration between non-governmental institutions, the private sector, and academia. Several research projects have been completed which, once analyzed, will be submitted to the Energy Commission to begin developing sound adaptation strategies.

Outcomes and Conclusions

The California Energy Commission has been working on climate change for over 30 years, and has recently shifted efforts from prediction of climate change impacts to development of adaptation options within the energy sector that will benefit people and the environment. Because the energy sector is the main contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, the Energy Commission believes they should be leaders in identifying climate change impacts and assisting in the development of adaptation strategies. For example, the Cal-Adapt tool will help decision makers develop sound adaptation policies.

Information collected through interviews and publications. Updated March 2011

Score, A. (2011). California Energy Commission's Climate Change Research Program [Case study on a project of the California Energy Commission]. Product of EcoAdapt's State of Adaptation Program. Retrieved from CAKE:… (Last updated March 2011)

Project Contact(s)

California Energy Commission

The California Energy Commission is the state's primary energy policy and planning agency. Created by the Legislature in 1974 and located in Sacramento, the Commission responsibilities include:


Scale of Project
Community / Local
State / Provincial
Sector Addressed
Conservation / Restoration
Development (socioeconomic)
Transportation / Infrastructure
Target Climate Changes and Impacts
Public health risks
Public safety threats
Range shifts
Sea level rise
Climate Type
Type of Adaptation Action/Strategy
Natural Resource Management / Conservation
Incorporate future conditions into natural resources planning and policies
Monitor climate change impacts and adaptation efficacy
Maintain adequate financial resources for adaptation
Taxonomic Focus
Sociopolitical Setting
Effort Stage
In progress