‘Just plain common sense’: Hawaii Governor adopts most ambitious climate laws in U.S.

The state aims to become carbon neutral by 2045.

Hawaii: Diamond Head and surrounding coastline. (Credit: Douglas Peebles/Corbis via Getty Images)
Hawaii: Diamond Head and surrounding coastline. (Credit: Douglas Peebles/Corbis via Getty Images)

Hawaii’s Governor David Ige (D) signed a bill on Monday implementing the most ambitious climate law in the United States. The new law, which comes into effect July 1, sets the goal for the state to become carbon neutral by 2045.

Along with the carbon neutral bill, Governor Ige also signed two other climate bills into law. A second bill requires the state to use carbon offsets to restore the state’s forests by planting trees which will help absorb carbon from the atmosphere. And a third law mandates that sea level rise be factored into the review process for building projects.

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“Climate change is real and we’re seeing its impacts right now in our island state,” Ige wrote on his Facebook page. “Taken together, this suite of bills establishes policies and programs that acknowledge and address this reality.”

Ige continued: “Sea level rise is already having an impact on beaches, roadways and homes near the shoreline. As a result, we face difficult land-use decisions, and requiring an analysis of sea level rise before beginning construction is just plain common sense.”

The carbon neutral bill notes that Hawaii could see $19 billion worth of damage from sea level rise.

Hawaii now surpasses Rhode Island as the most ambitious state when it comes to tackling climate change. Rhode Island aims to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 95 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.

Before introducing the three laws, Hawaii already had some of the strongest climate policies in the country. This includes a target introduced in 2015 to reach 100 percent renewable energy by 2045. And last year, despite President Trump’s announcement to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, Hawaii became the first state the introduce a law to uphold the Paris climate target of limiting warming to 2 degrees Celsius.

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As an archipelago in the Central Pacific, however, Hawaii relies on carbon-heavy modes of transport: planes and ships. This is one reason why the state chose to pursue a carbon offset program, Scott Glenn, head of the state’s environmental quality office, told Fast Company.

“We know we’re going to continue to be dependent on shipping and aviation,” he said, “and if they continue to burn carbon to bring us our tourists and our goods and our supplies and our food, then we want to try to have a way to sequester the impact we’re causing by importing all this stuff to our islands.”

Hawaii is also taking steps to improve its electricity grid and become more self sufficient. Earlier this month, Hawaiian Electric Company announced steps to improve the Oahu electric grid’s reliability as well as to incorporate more renewable energy generation in order to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels — just over a quarter of the state’s electricity currently comes from renewables. The state also plans to double local food production by 2030 (currently 90 percent of its food comes from outside the state).

The state of Hawaii joins others around the world in their efforts to become carbon neutral. The Maldives has set a carbon neutral target for 2020, Costa Rica’s deadline is 2021, followed by Norway’s 2030 target. Iceland hopes to reach carbon neutrality by 2040, Sweden by 2045, and both France and New Zealand have set a deadline of 2050.

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In the United States, some cities have also set their own carbon neutral targets. Both Austin, Texas and Boston, Massachusetts have set a deadline of 2050.