Adapting to Climate Change

Climate change impacts our communities in many ways, including stresses to water resources; threats to coastal environments and communities; negative impacts on human health; changing demand on energy supply; disruptions to transportation and agriculture; and increased vulnerability of society and ecosystems to future climate change.

Reducing green house gas (GHG) emissions, thereby reducing the rate and magnitude of climate change is referred to as “mitigation.” Mitigation primarily addresses the reduction of human factors that contribute to global warming, also known as anthropogenic causes. GHGs are the primary contributor to global warming, because they trap heat in the atmosphere. Principle GHGs that enter the atmosphere because of human activities are Carbon Dioxide (CO2), Methane (CH4), Nitrous Oxide (N2O), and Fluorinated Gases. Of all the anthropogenic GHGs emitted in 2004, over 56 percent was Carbon Monoxide (CO) caused by fossil fuel use, the second being CO2 from deforestation at about 17 percent.

Hawaii’s Climate Change Adaptation Policy

Act 234, Session Laws of Hawaii 2007, established the state’s policy framework and requirements to address Hawaii’s GHG emissions. In Act 234, the legislature recognized the following:  “… climate change poses a serious threat to the economic well-being, public health, natural resources, and the environment of Hawaii. The potential adverse effects of global warming include a rise in sea levels resulting in the displacement of businesses and residences and the inundation of Hawaii’s freshwater aquifers, damage to marine ecosystems.”

The focus and general purpose of Act 234 was to achieve cost-effective GHG emissions reductions at or below Hawaii’s GHG emissions estimates of 1990 by January 1, 2020. However, even if GHG emissions are reduced to 1990 levels, Hawaii will still be significantly impacted by climate change well into the future.

Hawaii can best respond to climate change by adapting to its impacts.  Adaptation involves adjusting our natural and built environments in response to actual or expected climate changes and its effects.  Act 20, Special Session Laws of Hawaii 2009, created a climate change task force to address climate change adaptation.  The Act 20 task force was not funded and did not convene.  By operation of law, the Act 20 task force ceased to exist on June 30, 2011.

Despite these setbacks, the Office of Planning and its partners recognized the need to address climate change adaptation and the desire of the governor and the state legislature to address the issue.  As the lead agency of the Coastal Zone Management (CZM) Program, the Office of Planning lead the coordination of a climate change adaptation policy for the State of Hawaii.

The Office relied upon existing authority under the CZM Act, which provides that “global warming may result in a substantial sea level rise with serious adverse effects in the coastal zone,” and that “coastal states must anticipate and plan for such an occurrence.”  See 16 U.S.C. § 1451.  In addition, the policy framework is a “Priority Guideline” to the State Planning Act, Hawaii Revised Statutes (HRS) chapter 226, which directs the Office to recommend planning related policy to the governor and the legislature.

In August of 2011, with funding support from the Army Corps of Engineers and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Office held workshops to develop a climate change policy that would help Hawaii adjust to climate change so that we can moderate potential damage, take advantage of opportunities, and cope with the consequences.  These workshops are described in the following documents:

Based on these workshops, Act 286 (2012), Climate Change Adaptation Priority Guidelines, was passed by the legislature and signed into law by former Governor Neil Abercrombie.  Hawaii is one of few states in the nation to adopt a statewide climate adaptation policy for addressing the impacts of climate change (Press Release).

Act 286 is codified as HRS § 226-109.  Because the policy is an amendment to the Hawaii State Planning Act, all county and state actions must consider the policy in its land use, capital improvement, and program decisions.

The Office of Planning is currently working with various stakeholders, primarily through the Ocean Resources Management Plan (ORMP) program, to implement the policy.  The ORMP includes county, state, and federal stakeholders who implement public projects and programs.  The ORMP is a coordinated effort that includes input from the community, businesses, and non-profits who contribute to and support these efforts.

On November 1, 2013, President Barack Obama appointed former Governor Neil Abercrombie to serve on the President’s Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience.  Task Force members were asked to develop recommendations on how the federal government can better support state, local and tribal efforts in climate mitigation, adaptation and resilience in the areas of Disaster Management; Built Systems (water, transportation, energy, facilities and coastal infrastructure); Natural Resources and Agriculture; and Community Development and Health.

In 2014, Act 83, or the Hawaii Climate Adaptation Initiative Act, was signed into law.  Act 83 (codified as HRS Chapter 225P) calls for the establishment of an Interagency Climate Adaptation Committee (ICAC), attached administratively to the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) and co-chaired by the Chairperson of the Board of Land and Natural Resources (BLNR) and the Director of the Office of Planning (OP).

Climate Change Policy Resources

Planning, Haw. Comm’n on Water Res. Mgmt. (last visited, April 2010) (Online tools and resources addressing Hawaii’s drinking water supply)

Federal Climate Change Adaptation Task Force, Council on Envt’l. Quality (last visited, March 2013)

Center for Island Climate Adaptation & Policy, Univ. of Haw. Sea Grant College (last visited, April 2013)

Jesse K. Souki, Climate Change Adaptation for Haw., Presentation to SMPS Haw. Chapter (Oct. 2012)

Dan Boylan, Insights-Climate Change, PBS Haw. (Dec. 2011)

Final Report Relating to Global Warming, 2009 Haw. Special Session, Act 20 (Dec. 2011)

Transp. Asset Climate Change Risk Assessment Report, Oahu Metropolitan Planning Organization (Dec. 2, 2011)

The Rain Follows the Forest, A Plan to Replenish Hawaii’s Source of Water, Haw. Dep’t of Land & Natural Res. (Nov. 2011)

Climate Change Initiatives in Haw. (2011)

Report to the Legislature in response to Act 20 Special Session 2009 relating to global warming (December 2009)

A Framework for Climate Change Adaptation in Haw. (November 2009)

Climate Change Initiatives in Haw. (2008)

Hawaii Climate Change Action Plan, Hawaii Dep’t of Bus., Econ. Devel. & Tourism (November 1998)

Effects on Haw. of a Worldwide Rise in Sea Level Induced By the “Greenhouse Effect,” Dep’t of Planning & Econ. Devel. (a report in response to Senate Resolution 137, 1984)