Hawaii's Goal to Go Carbon Neutral by 2045 Is Now Law

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Hawaiian cities such as Honolulu are particularly susceptible to the ravages of sea level rise. A trio of climate bills signed by Gov. David Ige aim help to minimize the damage while weaning the Aloha State off of fossil fuels. (Photo: Prayitno/flickr)

It's been a little over a year since the United States walked away from the Paris climate agreement, leaving cities, states and individual citizens to pick up the pieces and join the rest of the world in the advance to a cleaner, greener future.

Leading the charge — and very much not looking back — is the newest and most fossil fuel-dependent state in the nation, a sun-kissed archipelago in northernmost Polynesia that was the first to buck the White House's shortsighted decision and formally mandate laws that implement climate goals that align with the Paris Accord.

Now, Hawaii Gov. David Ige has signed into law legislation that pledges to make his state fully carbon neutral by 2045 — that's just 27 short years. And if 2045 rings a bell, it's because that's also the year in which Hawaii is poised to generate all of its electricity from renewable sources including solar, wind and geothermal.

Heralded as the most ambitious climate goal to be undertaken by any state, House Bill 2182 is in fine company.

As reported by Hawaii News Now, Ige also signed off on two complementary bills that further fortify Hawaii and its 750 miles of combined coastline against the impacts of climate change. One, HB2106, requires all new building projects across the islands to include a "common sense" sea level rise analysis in environmental impact reports. The other, HB1986, provides a framework for using carbon offsets to fund tree-replanting efforts in vulnerable native forests.

"I think, collectively, these three bills I'll be signing today continues and keeps Hawaii at the forefront in the battle in climate change and sea level rise," Ige explains.

Ige notes that the trio of new laws, particularly HB2182, are simply the next step in honoring the commitment, made one year ago, to stick with the Paris Accord come hell or, in this particular instance, high water. (According to the Hawaii Sea Level Rise Vulnerability and Adaptation Report released in December 2017, rising seas could inflict upwards of $19 billion in damage to private property on the islands.)

"It really takes the next step," says Ige of HB2182, which was authored by state Rep. Chris Lee and passed by the state legislature in May. "This measure really ups the ante and commits to a carbon neutral community here on the islands."

Plane at Honolulu Airport
Due in part to its robust, plane- and ship-intensive tourism industry as well as military operations, Hawaii is the most oil-dependent state. (Photo: Prayitno/flickr)

The transport issue

As Fast Company elaborates, transportation will be the most formidable hurdle faced by Hawaii in the coming decades as it moves toward a zero-emission, carbon-neutral economy.

Fully adapting to electric vehicles, including in Hawaii's public transit sector, is the relatively easy part. Those proverbial wheels have already been set in motion as EV ownership continues to rise. It's carbon-heavy ships and planes, the modes of transport required to reach the far-flung Hawaiian Islands, that's infinitely trickier — but not impossible.

"Those are global transportation networks that don't have easy substitutes right now," Scott Glen, director of Hawaii's Office of Environmental Quality Control, tells Fast Company. "That's one of the reasons why we really want to pursue the carbon offset program, because we know we're going to continue to be dependent on shipping and aviation, 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."

Per the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Hawaii, the eighth smallest state, has the ninth smallest carbon emissions.

Wind farm in Hawaii
In 2015, well ahead of the Trump Administration's withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement, Hawaii pledged to switch to 100 percent clean energy sourced from wind, solar and the like within 30 years. (Photo: Brian Snelson/flickr)

Countries, cities eye carbon-neutrality

While refreshingly ambitious for a state, Hawaii's aim to go carbon-neutral — this simply means that the state will sequester more carbon emissions than it releases into the atmosphere — by 2045 isn't entirely unique when you consider the global map. Fast Company points out that Sweden plans to be carbon-neutral by that same year while other countries nations are working within even shorter timeframes.

For example, the Maldives, a low-lying island paradise in the Indian Ocean that could become completely submerged within just a few short decades, is working furiously to become carbon neutral by 2020. Costa Rica, a progressive and squeaky green Central American nation that, like Hawaii and the Maldives, is largely dependent on tourism, also plans to be proudly carbon-neutral and fossil fuel-free by 2021, the year of its bicentennial. (Transportation will be an uphill battle in car-centric Costa Rica, which relies heavily on taxes placed on fossil fuel imports.) The Nordic nations of Norway and Iceland also, go figure, plan on joining the carbon-neutral country club by 2030 and 2040, respectively.

What's more, a slew of American cities including Boston, Seattle, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, New York City and Austin, Texas, have pledged to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.

"As we try as a global community to stay within 2 or one-and-a-half degree temperature rise, going carbon neutral is something that is absolutely essential," explains U.S. Climate Alliance executive director Julie Cerqueria, who attended at the bill signing ceremony at Point Panic in Honolulu's Kaka'ako neighborhood, to Hawaii Public Radio. "And so, if Hawai'i can be one of the first to figure out how to do that, what that pathway is, it can really help to inform, not only other states but other cities, national governments as to how they can be champions and leaders in this area as well."

Hawaii's HB2182, which will establish a Greenhouse Gas Sequestration Task Force to help the state reach its lofty goals, will take effect July 1 when it becomes Act 15.