Sunday, January 29, 2012

Climate Change Adaptation - Where the Academy Meets the Real World

State-level climate change adaptation is “on the radar” in Hawai‘i, and like many other academic institutions working in other jurisdictions, the University of Hawai‘i has something to do with it.

Last week, Hawai‘i State Representative Cynthia Thielen introduced House Bill 2330 to the Hawai‘i Legislature proposing that the State Office of Planning and county planning and permitting departments begin preparing for a 1-foot-by-2050 sea-level rise.  This measure, if enacted, would constitute Hawai‘i’s first comprehensive state-level sea-level rise adaptation policy.  Click here for local news coverage.

The University of Hawaii's Center for Island Climate Adaptation and Policy (“ICAP”) recommended a similar statewide planning benchmark (1-foot-by-2050 and 3-feet-by-2100) in its recently released paper, Sea-Level Rise and Coastal Land Use in Hawai‘i:  A Policy Tool Kit for State and Local Governments.  The paper also identifies twenty-four planning, regulatory, spending, and market-based policy tools that state and local decision-makers could use to build resiliency and reduce vulnerability to sea-level rise in Hawai‘i, and perhaps elsewhere.  The tool kit is an adaptation of the Georgetown Climate Center’s Adaptation Tool Kit:  Sea-Level Rise and Coastal Land Use, How Governments Can Use Land Use to Adapt to Sea-Level Rise, released in October 2011, which served as a valuable resource and model. 

The larger study’s three major phases — research, writing, and outreach over the 2011 calendar year — have involved extensive stakeholder engagement through workshops, individual interviews, and peer review.  Through this process, ICAP has strived to fill gaps between science, academia, policy-making, and implementation to ensure that its policy recommendations are well informed, useful, and attentive to community needs.

Concurrently, the Hawai‘i State Office of Planning is proposing legislation this session that would incorporate a climate change priority guideline into the State Plan.  The guideline would address climate change impacts on a variety of sectors including agriculture, coastal and near shore marine areas, water resources, education, energy, health, and the economy. 

 And, last November, the Hawai‘i Department of Land and Natural Resources released The Rain Follows the Forest, an action plan for replenishing Hawai‘i’s watersheds with an eye to increasing fresh water resilience in the face of drier conditions in the future due to climate change.  ICAP will release a policy study specifically focused on climate change and fresh water resources in the upcoming months.

ICAP is part of a trend worth watching in which scientists, legal scholars, and planners are working together across sectors to make climate adaptation policy a reality in state houses and county councils across the country. Whether decision-makers act on these recommendations will shape our quality of life in years and decades to come.

- Maxine Burkett

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