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Taking on climate change: Bill would align state strategies with those of Paris accord, create interagency commission

A bill on its way to Gov. David Ige affirms the state of Hawaii’s commitment to addressing climate change.

Introduced by Maui Sen. J. Kalani English and cosigned by Hawaii Island Sens. Josh Green and Kai Kahele, the bill draws on previous legislation to “promote a statewide response to climate change collaboration” and calls for Hawaii’s strategies to be aligned with those in the 2016 Paris Agreement.

Senate Bill 559 states that “Hawaii has a tradition of environmental leadership, having prioritized policies regarding conservation, reduction in greenhouse gas emission, and development and use of alternative renewable energy,” but in spite of these efforts, the state will still be “significantly impacted” by climate change.

The bill also states that “climate change requires a two-pronged approach — a reduction of activities that contribute to global warming and adaptations to mitigate the impacts of climate change on the state.”

A number of responses are listed, including:

• Expanding strategies to reduce statewide greenhouse gas emissions by using more renewable energy and controlling air pollution.

• Developing and conserving greenhouse gas “sinks” by prioritizing park and greenway development and restoration of native forests.

• Establishing an interagency climate change mitigation and adaptation commission, to include both state and county members.

The first task for the commission is creating sea level rise vulnerability and adaptability reports, which will be made available by December.

The bill appropriates $40,000 from the state general fund for fiscal year 2018, and $65,000 for hiring a full-time commission coordinator.

Sea level rise is already being investigated on Hawaii Island — a 2014 study looked at its future impact on Banyan Drive properties, for example — but the field is a relatively new one.

Steven Colbert, assistant professor of marine science at the University of Hawaii, said that the topic had not come up when communities in South Kohala were working on planning efforts less than a decade ago.

“They put together a conservation plan back in 2008 — not that long ago — and it didn’t have any mention of climate change in it, no mention of sea level rise,” he said. “It wasn’t a concern. Now it is.”

In 2012, the Hawaii State Planning Act was passed, requiring all county and state planning activities to consider climate change impacts.

“I think it’s our responsibility to keep up with it and communicate to people what is going on,” Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim said. That includes making sure Shoreline Management Area guidelines are fully enforced and that Civil Defense remains “aware that the hazard and risk is different than it (used to be).”

A study published in 2015 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences explored long-term effects of sea level rise under various levels of greenhouse gas reduction.

It found that even in best-case scenarios, places like Keaukaha and Kamehameha Avenue will be underwater by 2100.

Colbert, along with fellow marine science professor Jason Adolf and graduate students Kamala Anthony and Cherie Kauahi, is currently working on a study to measure the impact of sea level rise on Hawaiian fishponds in Keaukaha. The two-year study is funded by the Pacific Islands Climate Science Center, a research network within the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Anthony was an undergraduate when she first began working on restoration of a Keaukaha fishpond located close to where she grew up. Her master’s degree research now focuses on the pond and how climate change might affect its future.

Fishponds are built along the coast in areas where there is natural seepage of groundwater.

The algae that supports fish in the pond thrives in the brackish mix of water.

Rising oceans would push more salt water into the pond.

“We already see that when the tides are really high,” Colbert said. “So the conditions that we see during the highest tides are what we expect to see happening more often going into the future.”

“Our hypothesis is that as the ponds become more salty, the productivity will go down,” Adolf said.

Adolf said more students in the department are doing their own climate research as well: one senior just wrapped a thesis on the recent coral bleaching event, as well as the limited recovery.

“We end up talking about it in any class that has marine ecology and marine chemistry,” he said. “You can’t miss it. It’s such a top level event that affects everything.”

Email Ivy Ashe at iashe@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

 

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