Despite a dire United Nations warning of the looming danger of climate change, state officials believe Hawaii is making good progress in protecting the environment.
Earlier this month, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its sixth assessment report on how climate change is affecting the global environment.
The report, drawn from years of data collected since the Fifth Assessment Report in 2013, paints a grim picture of unprecedented and accelerating climate change in recent decades and extrapolates a potential future where global average temperatures rise by more than 10 degrees Fahrenheit by turn of the century.
Since pre-industrial times, human activities have already increased the average temperature of the planet by about 1 degree Celsius, or nearly 2 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the report.
Although the report does not include data specifically for Hawaii, the report’s worst-case scenario predicts that the Pacific Ocean will warm by nearly 1 degree Celsius by 2040, local air temperature will rise by nearly of 2 degrees Celsius and the local sea level will rise by about 0.2. meters, or nearly 8 inches.
Based on the report’s most optimistic scenario, humanity will need to immediately start reducing carbon dioxide emissions, dropping to zero by 2050, to prevent the temperature from rising more than another 1.5 degrees Celsius. , which has been identified as the maximum allowable temperature increase. before risking catastrophic impacts around the world, ranging from a sharp increase in extreme weather events to the collapse of the biosphere.
However, Hawaii’s sustainability coordinator Danielle Bass said Hawaii, at least, is on track to meet that deadline.
“The state of Hawaii recognized human-made climate change years ago,” Bass said, noting that Hawaii was much faster at doing so than many other states and nations. “We already have laws in place to address this.
“We’re doing a really good job, actually, although we could do more,” she continued.
The state has set a goal of fully switching to clean energy by 2045, Bass said, and has already introduced a wide variety of programs to pave the way towards that goal. However, she continued, the state will need to introduce more climate resilience measures – after all, she said, even the most optimistic IPCC scenario will lead to sea level rise, acidification. oceans and an increase in severe weather.
“We can see that we are threatened,” Bass said. “We envision worse storms, coastline erosion, droughts, forest fires… we really need to act now. “
The state’s Department of Transportation released a Climate Resilience Action Plan earlier this year, examining how the state’s roads could be affected by the various effects of climate change.
While the report states that most of the Big Island’s highways are not immediately threatened by rising sea levels, the increased risk of powerful storms will increase the risk of landslides statewide and require a more frequent road maintenance.
Bass said the assessment was only targeting national roads, however, and areas such as Banyan Drive will almost certainly be affected by rising sea levels.
A 2017 DOT report determined that most of the Big Island State’s highways have a low risk of impact from sea level rise, with the exception of Highway 19 along Hilo Bayfront, which is at “moderate” risk.
Beyond the island’s roads, Bass noted that the state’s hurricane shelters could benefit from additional funding, as the frequency and severity of tropical storms are expected to increase over the coming decades.
With changes in the local climate looming, Bass said the state will ultimately have to reconsider how its economy is structured in order to survive.
“We need to have a lot more food security than now,” Bass said, adding that Hawaii is too isolated to depend on mainland agriculture, especially if supply chains are disrupted by weather events.
Bass said the state’s ecology will also become more fragile over the years. A 2017 report on coral bleaching from the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources found that several fishing practices, such as underwater underwater fishing – which was banned in the western waters of the Big Island in 2013 – should be completely reduced in order to allow the reefs to recover. .
“We want to see a diverse economy. We don’t want to depend so much on tourism, ”Bass said, acknowledging the negative climate impacts caused by 10 million annual visitors to the state. According to a 2017 report from the European Parliament, international aviation could account for up to 22% of all global carbon dioxide emissions by 2050.
But Hawaii may have options.
This year, the state legislature passed House Bill 683, which establishes a subsidy program for businesses in Hawaii that develop products related to sustainable aviation fuel, which produces up to 80% less carbon emissions than traditional aviation fuel.
Hamakua representative Mark Nakashima, who introduced the bill, said several state companies are working on developing a cleaner electrolysis system to generate hydrogen-based aviation fuel, which would generate much less emissions.
“Hydrogen, when burned, only produces water, so it is much cleaner than normal fuel,” Nakashima said, adding that manufacturing conventional jet fuel also uses a certain amount of hydrogen. which could be synthesized more cleanly.
Unfortunately, no commercial aircraft in existence today uses hydrogen as an energy source. European aerospace company Airbus plans to produce a range of fuel cell aircraft by 2035.
Closer to the ground, Nakashima said he hopes the county’s first hydrogen buses will start operating in Kailua-Kona soon, although their launch has been repeatedly delayed. They were due to arrive on the island in May, but have yet to be modernized.
Bass noted that the state’s actions might be insignificant compared to the global action needed to mitigate the climate catastrophe, but expressed confidence that Hawaii is doing what it can.
“What this report shows us is that it’s going to be an important decade – it’s the decade of action,” Bass said.
“Locally, we have to do what we can, but it will be a collaborative effort around the world. “
Email Michael Brestovansky at [email protected]