Climate change: Redraw policies to adapt


As authors of the chapter covering Hawaii and the U.S.-affiliated Pacific Islands in the “Fourth U.S. National Climate Assessment,” which was released by the federal government on Black Friday, my colleagues and I encountered a dire picture of climate impacts that are now affecting communities and ecosystems across the state.

The impacts are widespread and already underway, with more than $19 billion in damage projected statewide by 2100 from sea level rise alone.

Sea level rise and other risks including coral death, human health impacts and severe storms are expected to compound on each other, sometimes in unpredictable ways. The national assessment, which is the most comprehensive synthesis of climate change science and risks across the United States, suggests that reacting earlier can help to minimize societal and economic disruption.

Since current federal policies fail to address these impacts, cities and states must step up and implement actions to reduce risks and increase the resilience of citizens.

Hawaii and the City and County of Honolulu are making commendable strides forward. The state published an important sea level rise report last year and has pledged to be carbon neutral by 2045, and Oahu voters created the Honolulu Office of Climate Change, Sustainability and Resiliency, which is developing a resiliency strategy for the island. Last week, the City Council heard a resolution aimed at establishing goals for 100 percent renewable energy, and the state released a statement about the need for fair carbon pricing to account for the societal costs of greenhouse gas emissions.

However, still more action is needed at city and state levels to accelerate the pace of climate preparedness and to spur changes in the private sector.

Adaptation actions

Both the city and state have created sea level rise planning benchmarks and maps. However, the resources and legal mandate for departments to use these are still needed.

Additionally, the rules governing Special Management Areas and land use ordinance and community plans need to be revised to reflect these projections, and sea level rise must be incorporated into current Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FEMA FIRMs).

Updating the state’s building codes would help create safer buildings and dwellings to withstand possible severe storm impacts. With some of the most out-of-date building codes in the nation, Hawaii also must support retrofit programs that give older homes a chance to survive.

Lastly, the state should look into purchasing catastrophe bonds and reinsurance to lower financial risk and provide quick relief, critical to saving lives in a disaster.

Mitigation actions

While it is necessary to adapt to inevitable climate impacts, even the world’s largest insurers recognize that these are only temporary fixes. They say we are on track to creating an “uninsurable world” unless we drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

To help do our part, Hawaii must update its energy codes and performance standards for public and private buildings to maximize energy efficiency and conservation. By implementing fair carbon pricing, we can start laying the policy framework now to achieve a fossil fuel-free economy.

While our historical choices have made some negative impacts from climate change unavoidable, if we fail to adapt and mitigate now, the results will be even more severe. The findings from the national assessment and other recent reports are serious, but it is never too late to start advocating for transformational change at local levels where citizens can quickly see results.

To read the Hawai‘i-Pacific chapter of the 4th U.S. National Climate Assessment, go to https://nca2018.