There’s an old saying that “the proof is in the pudding,” meaning that you can only truly gauge the quality of something once it’s been put to a test. Such is the case with climate models: mathematical computer simulations of the various factors that interact to affect Earth’s climate, such as our atmosphere, ocean, ice, land surface and the Sun.
For decades, people have legitimately wondered how well climate models perform in predicting future climate conditions. Based on solid physics and the best understanding of the Earth system available, they skillfully reproduce observed data. Nevertheless, they have a wide response to increasing carbon dioxide levels, and many uncertainties remain in the details. The hallmark of good science, however, is the ability to make testable predictions, and climate models have been making predictions since the 1970s. How reliable have they been?
Now a new evaluation of global climate models used to project Earth’s future global average surface temperatures over the past half-century answers that question: most of the models have been quite accurate.
In a study accepted for publication in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, a research team led by Zeke Hausfather of the University of California, Berkeley, conducted a systematic evaluation of the performance of past climate models. The team compared 17 increasingly sophisticated model projections of global average temperature developed between 1970 and 2007, including some originally developed by NASA, with actual changes in global temperature observed through the end of 2017. The observational temperature data came from multiple sources, including NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies Surface Temperature Analysis (GISTEMP) time series, an estimate of global surface temperature change.
The results: 10 of the model projections closely matched observations. Moreover, after accounting for differences between modeled and actual changes in atmospheric carbon dioxide and other factors that drive climate, the number increased to 14. The authors found no evidence that the climate models evaluated either systematically overestimated or underestimated warming over the period of their projections.
“The results of this study of past climate models bolster scientists’ confidence that both they as well as today’s more advanced climate models are skillfully projecting global warming,” said study co-author Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies in New York. “This research could help resolve public confusion around the performance of past climate modeling efforts.”
Scientists use climate models to better understand how Earth’s climate changed in the past, how it is changing now and to predict future climate trends. Global temperature trends are among the most significant predictions, since global warming has widespread effects, is tied directly to international target agreements for mitigating future climate warming, and have the longest, most accurate observational records. Other climate variables are forecast in the newer, more complex models, and those predictions too will need to be assessed.
To successfully match new observational data, climate model projections have to encapsulate the physics of the climate and also make accurate predictions about future carbon dioxide emission levels and other factors that affect climate, such as solar variability, volcanoes, other human-produced and natural emissions of greenhouse gases and aerosols. This study’s accounting for differences between the projected and actual emissions and other factors allowed a more focused evaluation of the models’ representation of Earth’s climate system.
Schmidt says climate models have come a long way from the simple energy balance and general circulation models of the 1960s and early ‘70s to today’s increasingly high-resolution and comprehensive general circulation models. “The fact that many of the older climate models we reviewed accurately projected subsequent global temperatures is particularly impressive given the limited observational evidence of warming that scientists had in the 1970s, when Earth had been cooling for a few decades,” he said.
The authors say that while the relative simplicity of the models analyzed makes their climate projections functionally obsolete, they can still be useful for verifying methods used to evaluate current state-of-the-art climate models, such as those to be used in the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Sixth Assessment Report, to be released in 2022.
“As climate model projections have matured, more signals have emerged from the noise of natural variability that allow for retrospective evaluation of other aspects of climate models — for instance, in Arctic sea ice and ocean heat content,” Schmidt said. “But it’s the temperature trends that people still tend to focus on.”
Other participating institutions included the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Woods Hole, Massachusetts.
Mayor Kirk Caldwell called the data evidence of a “climate crisis” during a news conference Wednesday at Magic Island, and said it was time for action.
“Weather is your mood today but climate is your personality over time, and our personalities are changing because of our climate crisis,” said Caldwell. “Here on the island of Oahu, the state of Hawaii and I think across our nation and the world, we’re seeing the impacts of our climate crisis in so many different ways.”
They found hot spots all across the island, from Waianae to Hawaii Kai.
The maximum heat index — a measure of what it feels like when relative humidity and air temperature are combined — was 107.3 degrees at the Waimalu Plaza Shopping Center in Aiea, as well as on the windward side, near the 7-11 store on Kalanianaole Highway in Waimanalo.
Hot spots were also found in Hawaii Kai, where the heat index was recorded at 106, and in Maili and Nanakuli, where the heat index was 105.
Coincidentally, Aug. 31 was also the hottest day of the year for Honolulu, with a temperature of 95 degrees Fahrenheit.
What to do about it?
Plant trees, according to Caldwell, noting his current initiative to plant 100,000 trees across Oahu by 2025. He noted that the heat index on Ala Moana Boulevard at Ala Moana Center was 105 that day but about 10 degrees lower at Magic Island, beneath the canopy of trees.
With information from the survey, city officials said they can determine where to plant more trees or to deploy other cooling strategies.
Data shows that there can be a range of as much as 27.7 degrees in the heat index from morning to afternoon as impervious surfaces such as concrete or asphalt heat up. Locations with more trees, however, experienced only up to 8 degree increases.
Caldwell said the city is also considering legislation to mandate greener buildings or adjusting setbacks from the seas. Trees, he said, should also be valued as infrastructure.
From a safety perspective, Jim Howe, director of the Honolulu Department of Emergency Services, said high heat can pose a health risk, including heat-related illnesses from youth at sports to kupuna.
Over the summer, first responders get a higher volume of calls for help from hikers on the Diamond Head trail, for instance, suffering from heat exhaustion.
Josh Stanbro, chief resilience officer, said the heat mapping serves as “a post card for the future of what the heat on this island is going to look like.” It will help the city anticipate how to defend residents from the emerging impacts of climate change.
Stanbro noted a record rainfall was also recorded over the summer, an anomaly.
“While we were breaking heat records, we were also breaking rain records, and that’s what global warming is really about,” he said. “It’s global weirding. It’s really pushing to the extremes, whether it’s heat, whether it’s rain, whether it’s cold snaps.”
Unfortunately, Stanbro said, looking ahead, the trend line for temperatures is going up, with more hot weather on the horizon.
“We just broke all the records last year,” he said. “By all indications, we’re looking at that as the new normal. That’s why we have to take action immediately to try to reverse that trend. We have to completely slam on the brakes in terms of burning carbon fuels for our energy source.”
Honolulu was one of 10 cities selected last year to partner with NOAA’s Climate Program Office, CAPA Strategies, LLC, the Science Museum of Virginia, and others to conduct the survey and create heat index maps. The preliminary community heat assessment report is available at bit.ly/oahuheatmap.
TOP 5 HEAT INDEX LOCATIONS ON OAHU RECORDED ON AUG. 31, 2019
>> 107 — Aiea, Waimalu Plaza Shopping Center
>> 107 — Waimanalo, Near 7-11 on Kalanianaole Highway
>> 106 — Just west of Kalani High School
>> 106 — Hawaii Kai, Kealahou St. across from Sandy Beach
>> 105 — Ala Moana Boulevard at Ala Moana Center
IT WAS A HOT YEAR
>> 2019 was the hottest year ever recorded in Honolulu.
>> 2019 was the second hottest year on record for the planet.
>> 2019 was a year of record temperatures globally and locally.
>> In 2019, the NWS logged 273 record high temperatures and ties.
>> Aug. 31, 2019 was the hottest day of the year for Honolulu, at 95 degrees Fahrenheit.
A big part of making our climate future livable is ensuring that homeowners and renters have access to affordable energy while ending our dependence on fossil fuels. Bill 25 is a big opportunity to make that happen.
We need reinforcements at the City Council on Thursday at 10AM for the Zoning and Planning Committee for Bill 25. What started out as a no-brainer energy efficiency bill that also advanced EV-ready parking and solar water heating, took a turn for the worst last night when competing amendments were proposed. Industry advocates and real estate developers are attempting to severely water down this clean energy bill.
Your presence is crucial on Thursday because the vote count in the committee is extremely close. One champion for the environment, CM Joey Manahan, is traveling and will not present at the hearing. That leaves CM Tommy Waters and CM Brandon Elefante, who have been great environmental champions in the past, to carry this issue. CM Kobayashi introduced the extremely weakened version of the bill preferred by developers, but she may still be persuaded that a strong Bill 25 is an investment in Honolulu’s future. This leaves the chair of the committee, CM Ron Menor. He needs convincing to support the strongest possible energy efficiency, solar water heater, and EV-ready parking requirements. And that is where you come in.
Show up to be counted on Thursday at 10AM on the second floor of Honolulu Hale (530 S. King Street). Wear your favorite climate crisis t-shirt!
Background, the short version is:
Environmental CD 2 (introduced by Elefante):
A city solar water heater requirement that is fully consistent with state law
Requires all new construction be PV-ready
Requires all new construction be built to offer Level 2 EV charging; with reduced specifications for retail and affordable housing structures
Developer CD 2 (introduced by Kobayashi):
No independent authority for the solar water heater mandate, so if the state abolishes the requirement then it would disappear at the City level as well
No PV-ready requirement
EV-ready parking only required to be a trickle charger; nothing required at commercial buildings and affordable housing structures
The entities advocating against Bill 25 are the same corporations that developed Koa Ridge and Hoʻopili. That’s right, the same developers that fought so hard to build massive housing projects on our best agricultural land — the same developers that promised to make these projects the most sustainable on the island — are now working overtime to undermine whatever sustainability requirements they can. It is outrageous.
From our review of the data, requiring new construction to be built with the future in mind (wired for level 2 EV charging, equipped for PV installation) saves significant costs on future-retrofitting while not significantly increasing the cost of current construction. Similarly, authorizing the City to follow through on the state’s solar water heater mandate saves homeowners a lot of money on their monthly electricity bills, while not significantly increasing the cost of housing or putting the gas company out of business. For the solar water heater mandate, there is a variance process for homeowners that really would prefer a gas water heater in their home.
Aloha Chair Menor and members of Zoning, Planning and Housing Committee,
Our climate future is not unknown but it is uncertain. We know that our climate is in a crisis and will continue to be unless we take drastic action to reduce our carbon emissions. That is why I am writing to you today in strong support of Bill 25 CD2 introduced by Council member Elefante.
Honolulu is a leader in many climate policies and its residents have high expectations for the future of Oʻahu. Bill 25 is the next logical step in our island’s progress toward a livable, stable climate future. Some of our expectations for the future of Honolulu are that:
The City has its own authority to advance the solar water heater mandate consistent with state law because the science shows solar water heaters are better for the climate and the finances demonstrate that solar water heaters significantly reduce the monthly cost of living for homeowners and renters
Electric vehicle charging infrastructure is ubiquitous on Oʻahu. A minimum of 25% of all parking stalls at residential and commercial facilities are EV-ready.
All new construction on Oʻahu is as energy efficient as possible.
Contrary to what the Gas Company and developers tell people, passing Bill 25 will reduce the cost of living on Oʻahu (not increase it) because:
Time and again economists have shown that solar water heating significantly reduces monthly electricity bills.
It is estimated that retrofitting buildings to provide EV charging is 4-8-times more expensive than constructing them with that capability built-in.
Energy efficiency measures are a no-brainer way to reduce monthly electric bills for homeowners and renters
Bill 25 is an important energy efficiency bill that needs to be adopted in its strongest possible form because it sets the stage for the future of Oʻahu’s climate resiliency.
Thank you for the opportunity to testify and for taking up this important measure at the council.
The Kahuku wind farm developer opposed a proposed ban on coal in Hawaii.By Stewart Yerton
When Sen. Gil Riviere tried to visit a constituent at the Kahuku Agricultural Park last month, he was surprised to find the road blocked — but not by police or officials of the Hawaii Department of Agriculture, which owns the park.
Instead, controlling the road were employees of AES Corp., the energy giant developing a controversial wind farm in Kahuku.
Although relatively unknown in Hawaii outside of energy circles, AES is a major player in the state’s economy — a Fortune 500 behemoth powerful enough to defy an elected representative like Riviere and the agriculture officials who say they had already told AES to let Riviere pass.
And AES’s power and influence in Hawaii is growing. The company will have an outsized role in whether the state will meet its goal of weaning itself from fossil fuels to generate electricity by 2045.
AES Corp. has a major presence in Hawaii, including this coal-burning plant in Kalaeloa, which produces 20% of Oahu’s electricity.
The Virginia-based energy multinational provides a fifth of Oahu’s power from its coal-burning plant at Campbell Industrial Park. It also operates a new massive solar and storage project on Kauai, a facility often cited as a model for the type of utility-scale solar that’s part of Hawaii’s power supply plan.
In the works are other renewables projects: a 60-megawatt Kuihelani solar farm on Maui, a 30-megawatt Waikoloa project on the Big Island, and a 30-megawatt West Oahu solar project.
It’s likely the company is considering even more projects.
Earlier this month, Hawaiian Electric Co. announced it received more than 75 proposals in response to a request for proposals to build about 900 megawatts of new renewables or renewables paired with storage. HECO is now in the process of evaluating the bids.
AES would not say whether it has proposed more projects. But HECO’s goals dovetail with AES’s stated mission of “improving lives by accelerating a safer and greener energy future.”
Amy Ackerman, a spokeswoman based at AES’s Virginia headquarters, did not return calls for comment. Pono Suganuma, a Hawaii-based AES spokeswoman, wouldn’t say whether the company has submitted proposals for additional projects.
Mark Miller, chief operating officer for AES’s US generation businesses, also didn’t answer the question.
“AES has been a proud partner with the State of Hawai‘i for nearly 30 years, providing reliable, low-cost energy to the islands,” Miller said in a statement. “Together, we are transforming the generation and delivery of electricity, deploying technologies that offer renewable, affordable power to the community.”
AES, a global firm with thousands of employees and billions of dollars in revenue, says it is accelerating “a greener energy future.” But AES uses fossil fuels for more than two-thirds of the energy it produces.
AES Corp. 10-K
Despite AES’s dominant role in Hawaii, the islands play a small role in AES’s global businesses.
Consider, for instance, one of its recently announced projects.
Last week Reuters reported AES had signed a memorandum of understanding with the Vietnamese government to build a $1.7 billion natural gas-fired power plant in Vietnam. The deal was so important that it was signed in Hanoi in the presence of U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross.
AES’s empire includes assets worth more than $32 billion that generated $10.7 billion in revenue in 2018, the company said in its annual securities filing for 2018.
The company runs coal plants in Puerto Rico, Maryland and Oklahoma, wind farms in California, Texas and West Virginia, and solar and storage projects in various locales, alone and through a joint venture partnership called sPower.
It has even bigger investments outside the U.S.; in fact, the company says 68% of its revenue comes from international projects, including large operations in South America. Its power plants in Argentina, for instance, represent 11% of the nation’s generating capacity.
Despite talk of embracing renewables, only 29% of the power AES generates at this point comes from renewables. Nearly a third is generated from coal, including major operations in places like Chile.
Sen. Gil Riviere, standing at Haleiwa Alii Beach Park with windmills above Waimea Bay, has said the area already has more than its fair share of wind farms.
Cory Lum/Civil Beat
Despite its size, AES has failed to impress some members of the community. Riviere is a case in point.
It was late October, during the height of protests against AES’s proposed Na Pua Makani wind farm in Kahuku, and Riviere and two other state senators, Kurt Fevella of Ewa Beach and Kai Kahele of Hilo, went to visit a farmer who lived in the area.
Riviere’s staff had cleared the visit with the Hawaii Department of Agriculture, which owns the agriculture park where the farmer lives. But when the senators got to the park, Riviere said, AES security officers stopped them and said the senators couldn’t pass.
“They were really, really bullies about it,” Riviere said. “Under what authority are they bringing guards to the state ag park?”
Not the state’s. Morris Atta, deputy director of the Hawaii Department of Agriculture, said the agency told AES that the agriculture park road blocked by AES security was supposed to be open to tenants, such as the farmers, and their invitees.
“We had told AES not to do what they basically did,” Atta said.
AES’s proposed wind farm in Kahuku has sparked protests, but the company’s influence in Hawaii goes far beyond the controversial North Shore project.
Cory Lum/Civil Beat
The protests against the Kahuku wind farm, which have led to 160 arrests, come at a time when community support is vital to helping Hawaii achieve its goals to wean itself from fossil fuels by 2045.
HECO’s latest wave of projects will have a big physical presence. On Oahu alone, HECO expects some 3,000 acres of new solar farms, roughly the size of 29 Aloha Stadiums. HECO officials have expressed worry that the projects could be delayed because of resident opposition.
To head off delays proactively, HECO has made community engagement a criterion on which it will choose projects.
But if HECO is sincere about community engagement, something will need to change if AES expects to be seriously considered for any future projects, says Lance Collins, an attorney representing two groups fighting the Kahuku wind farm — one in state court and one before the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission.
“In the brief experience I’ve had with them, they basically feel entitled to do whatever they want,” Collins said of AES. “They’ll just do whatever they want as long as nobody stops them.”
Opposed ‘Coal-Free Hawaii’ Bill
HECO’s recent request for proposals is closely intertwined with AES’s future on Oahu. That’s because AES’s 180-megawatt coal-burning plant is scheduled to shut down in late 2022, and the plan is to replace the electricity the plant produces with power from new renewables projects submitted in response to the RFP.
HECO officials are emphatic that the company will not buy power produced using coal from the AES plant after the contract expires in 2022.
However, both AES and HECO opposed a bill that would have put that into law. Their reason: they want to leave open the option to keep using coal after 2022.
AES Hawaii has testified it wants the option to keep open this coal-burning power plant on Oahu, which is slated to close in 2022.
Titled the “Coal-Free Hawaii” bill, the measure simply said that utilities regulators could not approve or renew a contract to burn coal to produce electricity after Dec. 31, 2022.
But testifying against the bill for HECO, Lisa Giang, HECO’s director for advanced planning, warned of serious problems if HECO couldn’t get its planned projects and grid modifications on line before the coal plant was scheduled to shut down. HECO needs options in case the project can’t come online, Giang said in written testimony.
“The consequences of not having this option could be grave,” Giang said.
Steven Barnoski, AES Hawaii’s business manager, echoed Giang.
“There are numerous factors that could delay progress toward meeting Hawaii’s environmental goals and it is important to keep a full range of generation options open to adequately address a potential shortfall,” Barnoski wrote in testimony. “Because the future is unpredictable, it is important to have contingency plans in place.”
HECO officials have acknowledged the coal plant contract contains a provision allowing the contract to be extended, but the officials pledged the company will not exercise it.
AES Director Wants New Hawaiian Electric CEO
Despite its fight against the coal-free bill, AES has made a highly public push against fossil fuels, at least in Hawaii.
The same day AES was signing the memorandum of understanding for its mammoth fossil fuel-powered plant in Vietnam, an AES director was sending out letters criticizing HECO’s parent, Hawaiian Electric Industries, for not giving up fossil fuels fast enough.
“By embracing inertia, Hawaiian Electric has failed to lead the transition away from oil-fired generation to renewable energy,” wrote Jeffrey Ubben, an AES director who is also chief executive of ValueAct Capital Management, an investment firm with $15 billion in assets, which has invested heavily in HEI.
Ubben expressed doubt HECO could reach a 2022 goal of generating 50% of the electricity it sells with renewables.
“This is a very ambitious goal for the company, and we are not confident about management’s ability to execute given their historical track record,” Ubben wrote. He suggested HEI pick someone from outside the company to succeed HEI’s longtime chief executive, Constance Lau, when Lau steps down.
Ubben’s letter prompted HEI’s board chairman, Jeff Watanabe, to accuse Ubben of spreading misinformation.
“They don’t seem interested in the facts but rather seem intent on pursuing their own agenda – specifically, handpicking a CEO for HEI,” Watanabe wrote in a Nov. 12 letter posted on HEI’s website.
Watanabe went on to point out the connections between ValueAct and AES, and AES’s prominent role in Hawaii doing business under contracts with HECO.
“ValueAct’s activities should be viewed in the context of its substantial conflicts of interests in Hawaii,” Watanabe wrote.
As the protests in Kahuku continue, the Kahuku wind farm still faces legal fights from both a residents’ group, Keep the North Shore Country, and Life of the Land, an environmental organization.
Henry Curtis, who runs Life of the Land, and his lawyers are on a winning streak lately with some major cases fighting renewable projects they said took short cuts getting approvals. A key hearing on Life of the Land’s motion before the PUC is scheduled for Friday.
But even if AES wins its cases before the commission and court, it’s lost considerable community goodwill, Riviere said.
Ultimately, Riviere said, he and his fellow senators were able to get past the AES sentry and meet with the farmer, Chai Yoshimura.
But Riviere still expresses dismay at what he had to go through simply to meet with a constituent leasing land from the state.
“It’s not right that the public has to work so hard to do something that should just be automatic,” he said.
The City & County of Honolulu announced their intent to file suit against the fossil fuel industry for deceiving people about the known dangers of climate change and the resulting costs on Oʻahu’s taxpayers. Honolulu joins Maui County and dozens of other counties, municipalities, and states across the US that have filed similar climate liability lawsuits.
Since the 1960s, the fossil fuel industry knew that their products—oil, gas and coal—would cause detrimental impacts to the world’s climate. Instead of acting for the greater good, the industry doubled down on production and spent millions on alternative science and misinformation campaigns, wasting valuable time to transition to clean energy and worsening the climate crisis.
In response to Mayor Caldwell’s announcement, the Sierra Club Oʻahu Group has released this statement:
“Decades of deceit by the fossil fuel industry bolstered their mammoth profits, and now the climate crisis has global citizens fighting against our own extinction,” said Hunter Heaivilin, Chair of the Sierra Club Oʻahu Group. “Our island already feels the brunt of climate-related impacts, from shrinking beaches to a marathon of record heat days. Sadly, we will all be paying for climate change for decades to come. It is only fair that those corporations that lied about it be made to pay their share, as well.”
SHOW YOUR SUPPORT
The Honolulu City Council Executive Matters and Legal Affairs Committee will hear the mayor’s resolution to file proactive litigation and to obtain outside counsel to represent the county in related legal matters. After committee approval, the resolution is heard and voted on in full council. Once outside counsel is approved, the litigation is filed.
The Executive Matters and Legal Affairs Committee will hear the mayor’s resolution on Tuesday, November 12 at 1pm
Turn out to the committee meeting show your support and bring your friends
The full City Council will hear the resolution immediately after the committee meeting
“Aloha Chair Menor and members of the Executive Matters and Legal Affairs Committee,
I am writing to you today in support of Resolution 19-283, to file proactive litigation against the fossil fuel industry to recover climate crisis-related costs.
The fossil fuel industry knew their products would lead to the climate crisis and they chose to lie to shareholders, lawmakers, and the people about the dangers their products would cause. Because of their deception and inaction, Oʻahu now faces billions of dollars in adaptation and loss of critical land and infrastructure. Oʻahu’s government and taxpayers should not be left to pay for climate-related damages alone.
I support the City hiring expert attorneys that know all the details about this area of law and will only be paid if they win the lawsuit on our collective behalf.
Filing this lawsuit is the next reasonable step to take, given all that we know about what this industry has done to our climate. Holding the fossil fuel industry responsible will help offset the costs to Oʻahu’s people.
Thank for the opportunity to testify on this important matter.
Sign this petition urging Hawaiʻi and Kauaʻi Counties and the State Attorney General to also file lawsuits
Why this litigation is important: Hawaiʻi’s communities already know the impacts of the climate crisis well—worsened brush fires, coastal erosion, unprecedented flooding, and increasingly dangerous hurricane activity. These impacts threaten our livelihoods: fires threaten to destroy residential areas that could drive up the cost of housing, erosion could mean loss of access to coastal communities accessible by only one road, extreme floods drive out families and increase insurance costs for everyone.
Everyone feels the impacts of the climate crisis just as everyone shares this earth. However, the fossil fuel industry does not care about everyone. They care about their profits. They knew in the 60s, with striking accuracy, that their products would cause the climate crisis we are in today—but they chose to act for themselves. They spent millions to fund misinformation campaigns, “alternative science”, and prevent climate policies that would hurt their business.
How this litigation helps Hawaiʻi’s communities: Hawaiʻi’s communities face $19 billion in lost private infrastructure and land, and that is from just three feet of sea level rise. This cost does not take into account the loss of public infrastructure and lands or other climate change impacts. Hawaiʻi’s residents alone should not have to pay for the billions of dollars of adaptation it will take to keep the islands livable. The fossil fuel industry is responsible for the majority of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions that fuel climate change and they should be the ones to pay. The industry created this problem and they should help the frontline communities that are facing the worst of the climate crisis. Just like the lawsuits against the tobacco industry redirected corporate profits to help communities that have long borne the costs of smoking related illnesses, it is time to hold the fossil fuel companies accountable.
Content Editor for Climate Change Policy and Adaptation (Russia/Netherlands)24 September 2019
As a co-lead of the Climate Action Summit’s Nature-based Solutions action area, China urges incorporating nature-based solutions in the post-2020 global biodiversity framework and giving consideration to the potential of natural systems to facilitate mitigation and adaptation.
On Mitigation, China will, inter alia, enhance cooperation on a “standard system for greenhouse gas emissions control and capacity building”.
17 September 2019: The Government of China has released a statement, outlining the country’s efforts under and position on each of the nine action areas of the UN Secretary-General’s Climate Action Summit held in New York, US, on 23 September.
As a co-lead of the Climate Action Summit’s Nature-based Solutions action area, China calls for a systematic understanding of the relationship between human beings and nature, full recognition of the ecological value of earth, reliance on natural forces to deal with the risks posed by climate change and fostering a low-emission and climate-resilient society. It urges incorporating nature-based solutions in the post-2020 global biodiversity framework and giving consideration to the potential of natural systems to facilitate mitigation and adaptation.
On Social and Political Drivers, China signals its willingness to work with all Parties to strengthen policy support and social policy incentives and play a positive role in promoting the comprehensive and effective implementation of the UNFCCC and the Paris Agreement on climate change.
On Youth and Public Mobilization, China calls on governments to educate young people about environmental protection, listen to their suggestions, support youth in participating in climate action and facilitate their employment and entrepreneurship in related areas.
On Energy Transition, China undertakes to enhance cooperation with other countries to build a clean, low-carbon, safe and efficient energy system, promote sustainable energy development worldwide and safeguard global energy security.
On Industry Transition, China expresses readiness to work with all Parties to accelerate low-carbon transformation, promote green manufacturing, innovate green technologies and enhance industrial energy efficiency and carbon emissions reduction.
On Infrastructure, Cities and Local Action, China looks forward to strengthening cooperation and exchanging experiences with other countries on local climate action, green infrastructure development and climate-adaptive urban development.
On Mitigation, China will: strengthen communication with all other Parties on the implementation of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and the formulation of mid- and long-term climate strategies; enhance cooperation on a “standard system for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions control and capacity building”; and promote the transition to a low-carbon economy.
On Resilience and Adaptation, China expresses commitment to strengthening climate adaptation and expanding international cooperation through policy communications with all stakeholders to build a “climate-adaptive society.”
When a tourist flies into Honolulu from the West Coast, that one trip might not seem like a massive environmental problem. In terms of carbon emissions, it’s the equivalent of driving 710 miles — about the distance from L.A. to San Francisco and back.
But the cumulative impact of tourists flying to and from Hawaii is enormous.
Take the 3.8 million visitors in 2017 from just the western U.S., Hawaii’s biggest tourist market. The carbon footprint of their round trip air travel is roughly like driving a car around the equator — 225,000 times.
While the millions of tons of carbon produced by flights to Hawaii may be invisible, it’s having a profound effect on the environment.
“The carbon footprint of aviation overall is one of our biggest — and dirtiest — climate secrets,” said Jeff Mikulina, executive director of the Blue Planet Foundation, which advocates for using clean energy.
Passenger jets, like these run by Delta and Hawaiian Airlines, drive Hawaii’s economy. But they also have an enormous carbon footprint.
Cory Lum/Civil Beat
The reasons are obvious. It takes an enormous amount of energy to propel a passenger airplane through the sky at 35,000 feet.
“The aviation industry is really carbon intensive, and with good reason,” said Josh Stanbro, executive director of Honolulu’s Office of Climate Change, Sustainability and Resiliency. “There are a lot of things we can electrify. But as of yet, air transportation isn’t one of them.”
Flights to and from Hawaii from the western U.S. produced 2.3 million tons of carbon in 2017. Flights to and from Hawaii from all over the world, produced approximately 6.3 million tons, according to the analysis. (An explanation of Civil Beat’s methodology is at the bottom of the story.)
That’s the equivalent of the CO2 produced by generating electricity for almost 1.1 million homes in a year, according to the EPA.
To capture that much carbon annually would take about 7.4 million acres of forest, more than the total 4.1 million acres of land in the Hawaiian islands.
Although only an estimate, it’s a stunning amount of CO2. But it’s not surprising given Hawaii’s remoteness and popularity as a tourist destination.
And it poses a conundrum for the state.
An industry that is the lifeblood of the economy also has enormous negative environmental impacts. It’s a problem too often ignored, said Mikulina.
Flying visitors to and from Hawaii produces an enormous amount of carbon dioxide.
Policymakers, the public and tourism executives have begun talking more openly about how to manage Hawaii’s roughly 10 million annual tourists rather than how to attract more of them.
But much of the discussion focuses on highly visible side effects: crowded beaches and hiking trails, damaged reefs, residential neighborhoods overrun with vacation rentals and the like.
The carbon footprint of aviation overall isn’t given the same amount of attention, Mikulina said.
“People seem unwilling to discuss it or fully disclose it because jet travel is an inescapable part of living on and visiting these islands,” he said. “It would serve our overall state climate goals if we could have more transparency and discussion about the huge carbon footprint of jet travel.”
Growing Interest In The Issue
There are hints that things may be starting to change.
In July, Honolulu City Councilwoman Kymberly Pine introduced a bill requiring Stanbro’s office to track the Oahu visitor industry’s efforts to promote sustainable tourism, including efforts related to transportation.
“It just seems that we have forgotten to target a lot of our policies to ensure a high quality of life for our residents,” Pine said during a hearing discussing the measure. “Having 10 million tourists in Hawaii — I never thought we’d reach that point.”
Hawaii uses more petroleum-based fuel to power airlines annually than it uses to create electricity or power cars, trucks and buses.
Globally, an increasing focus is on the aviation industry’s role in managing the environmental effects of tourism.
That was a 26% increase over 2013, when flights accounted for 710 million tons.
Concerns over such emissions are a big enough deal in Europe that there’s now a word, “flygskam,” to describe the practice of calling people out for globetrotting on carbon-emitting passenger jets, The Washington Post reports. Flygskam is Swedish for “flight shame.”
Among those flight-shamed recently is Prince Harry of Wales and his wife Meghan Markle, who have been criticized for taking private flights with a bigger carbon footprint than commercial ones.
“Unchallenged, this sentiment will grow and spread,” Alexandre de Juniac, the head of the International Air Transport Association, told some 150 CEOs at the summit.
The industry is responding in part by emphasizing the economic benefits air travel provides.
Nancy Young, the vice president for environmental affairs for the trade association that represents U.S. carriers, Airlines for America, declined to be interviewed on the record for this article.
But Carter Yang, an Airlines for America spokesman, provided a statement saying the industry supports “more than 10 million U.S. jobs and $1.5 trillion in annual U.S. economic activity.”
Yang also said the industry contributes “just 2 percent of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions.”
For Hawaii, the percentage appears to be much higher than that. A 2019 report by Honolulu’s sustainability office estimated aviation accounted for 13% of Oahu’s carbon emissions.
The Elemental Excelerator, a business development organization that works with innovative renewable energy and transportation companies, among others, estimates the percentage at more than 20%.
In addition, Hawaii’s aviation industry outpaces all other sectors in its petroleum use.
The industry gobbled up 30.2% of the petroleum used in Hawaii in 2017, the State Energy Office reported in July using the most recent available data. That compared to 28.4% for ground transportation and 24.5% for electric power.
In raw numbers, the amount of carbon dioxide produced is massive.
Using fuel data from the federal Energy Information Administration, the Honolulu sustainability office pegs the amount of carbon produced by the aviation industry for Oahu alone to be about 1.88 million tons annually. However, the office only looked at domestic fights, and accounted only for the outbound leg, said Rocky Mould, energy program manager for the sustainability office.
In an attempt to estimate the carbon footprint of flying millions of tourists to and from Hawaii, Civil Beat used a more expansive scope, looking at round-trip flights from everywhere.
Considering the broader scope of Civil Beat’s analysis, Mould said, “The number seems pretty good, I have to say.”
Carbon Neutral Growth By 2021?
The airlines are taking the issue seriously.
Hawaiian Airlines is a case in point. The carrier has invested in a new fleet of fuel efficient Airbus A321 neos, which it says emit 16% less carbon than previous generation planes. The carrier also is reducing its use of jet fuel to power aircraft waiting at the gate by using more efficient external electricity instead of power generated by the airplane.
Hawaiian estimates this could save approximately 620,000 gallons of fuel annually and cut CO2 emissions by 5,933 metric tons. That’s roughly enough fuel to fly the airline’s wide-body fleet for a day, the airline says.
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In another initiative, United Airlines allows travelers to buy carbon credits to offset the impact of flights. To neutralize a roundtrip flight between Los Angeles and Honolulu costs $6.30. The money goes to help preserve forests around the world in partnership with Conservation International, an environmental organization.
Locally, Hawaiian Airlines is working in a consortium with other Hawaii companies and the Nature Conservancy to determine whether a carbon offset market can be developed in Hawaii, said Ann Botticelli, a Hawaiian spokeswoman.
The Elemental Excelerator is also seeking to develop market-based solutions to carbon emissions by helping finance and advise promising companies that can help solve the problem.
One of these companies, Ampaire, has begun testing a small electric airplane that can be used for short flights within the islands. The plan is to begin testing flights between Kahului to Hana, Maui, around the beginning of 2020 in partnership with Mokulele Airlines, said Aki Marceau, the Elemental Excelerator’s managing director for policy and community.
Another company, called Signol, is taking a completely different approach, building on a case study of a Virgin Airlines project published in the Harvard Business Review.
The conclusion is that getting pilots to make small changes in the way they operate aircraft can have a big impact on reducing fuel use and carbon emissions. Signoldescribes its tool, which can nudge pilots to be more efficient, as “Fitbit for work.”
How much difference all of this will make remains to be seen, given the growing hordes of tourists.
“Efficiency has gotten better,” Stanbro said. “But the number of tourists is going up.”
Civil Beat first calculated the number of visitors to Hawaii by region based on HTA data from 2017, the most recent year annual data was available. Civil Beat next selected an airport in each of these regions to use as a benchmark. For example, the vast majority of air travelers from the Western U.S. Region come from California, so Civil Beat used LAX as the benchmark airport for that region.
To calculate the carbon footprint for each region, Civil Beat put the number of visitors into the ICAO’s carbon calculator using HNL and the corresponding region’s benchmark airport. Civil Beat repeated the procedure for the eight market regions identified by HTA.
Climate change is contributing to a litany of conditions that can make swimming, snorkeling and surfing more dangerous in Hawaii waters — and it’s only expected to get worse in the years ahead, according to scientists, health experts and ocean safety officials.
Lifeguards have already had to relocate their towers multiple times as beach erosion alters the shoreline. Some of that is natural, but some of it is from rising seas, stronger surf and more frequent severe storms.
Emergency responders have started tracking heat-related health problems as trade winds blow less frequently and temperatures continue to break records.
County and state officials are also bracing for bigger populations of jellyfish from warmer waters, more powerful rip currents from higher sea levels, and increased exposure to water-borne diseases from flooding and runoff.
Honolulu Emergency Services Director Jim Howe said the county has long adapted to gradual changes in coastal conditions and weather patterns that affect ocean safety. But in recent years, he has had to refocus planning efforts as climate change has quickened the rate of change and exacerbated problems.
“From our perspective, this is accelerating,” he said. “We’re doing our level best to make sure we’re like a coconut tree in a storm — that we bend with the wind and not break.”
The lifeguard tower at Ehukai Beach, also known as Pipeline, has been relocated three times. It has affected guards’ line of sight.
Cory Lum/Civil Beat
There are 42 lifeguard towers around Oahu, guarding many of the most popular places but far from all of the island’s 179 beaches. It’s a similar story on Maui, Kauai and the Big Island.
Lifeguards are changing how they approach ocean safety in light of the changing conditions. That has meant moving towers and becoming more mobile in the near term.
On Oahu’s Windward side, the county has had to move the Kailua Beach lifeguard tower three times due to erosion. It now sits 40 feet farther back, Howe said. The Kualoa tower was also relocated due to erosion.
In Waikiki, the county had to rebuild the main tower in front of the police substation because the beach lost so much sand that it undermined the concrete columns the tower was sitting on and it was tilting forward.
Howe said it cost “considerable sums,” but did not have exact figures.
Lifeguarded Beaches In Hawaii
On the North Shore, the Ehukai (Pipeline) and Sunset Beach towers have each been relocated three times. And the Chun’s Reef tower was also moved because of erosion.
At one point, the Ehukai tower was strapped to coconut trees to hold it in place, Howe said. Its new location appears more stable, but it cut off some sight lines looking east toward Sunset Beach because trees are in the way, he said, and the trees should really stay because they help stabilize the shore.
The Kawaena tower, also on the North Shore, had an 8-foot drop from the bottom of the stairs to the beach after severe erosion, Howe said. It was later moved back, too.
“We’re seeing more of these incidents at more locations, affecting more places.” — Jim Howe, Honolulu emergency services director
“We’re seeing more of these incidents at more locations, affecting more places,” Howe said.
The county is in the third year of a nine-year plan to replace all of its lifeguard towers, a project estimated to cost $2.5 million.
Changes in weather patterns in recent years, from higher tides to heavier rains, have led to faster-eroding beaches. Howe said the siting of the new towers must take that into consideration.
A lifeguard tower in Kekaha on the west side of Kauai had to be relocated due to erosion.
Courtesy: Kauai County
Part of the solution is portable towers, which can easily be moved back as the ocean encroaches.
Maui’s acting battalion chief, Jeff Giesea, said the portable towers the county recently bought can help lifeguards respond to rising sea levels as well as approaching hurricanes, which are expected to become more frequent.
“We believe we have a responsibility to incorporate these eventualities into our long-term planning,” he said. “Hoping for some technological miracle that will save us from having to adjust to the impacts of global warming is simply not a viable option, nor is hoping that the nearly unanimous opinions of experts in the field worldwide turn out to be wrong.”
A lifeguard tower in Kee Beach on the north shore of Kauai had to be relocated due to erosion from unprecedented rain and flooding in April.
Courtesy: Kauai County
Kauai has faced similar issues. The county has moved two lifeguard towers due to erosion and shifting shorelines, but officials are unable to directly link it to climate change.
The Kekaha lifeguard tower, on the west side, was moved in 2011 and 2012, Deputy Fire Chief Kilipaki Vaughan said. And the Kee tower on the north shore was relocated in April after unprecedented rainfall flooded and eroded the beach.
In some places around the state, the counties are running out of room to move the towers back any farther. One of the Waikiki towers has routinely had waves rolling under it the past few years, and the tower in front of the Duke Kahanamoku statue is set back about as far as it can go with the road and other infrastructure behind it.
Visitors routinely ignore warning signs and lifeguards cautioning them against entering the dangerous shorebreak at Sandy Beach.
Cory Lum/Civil Beat
Kauai, like Honolulu and the other counties, has also been increasing its lifeguards’ mobility to speed response times, especially to unguarded beaches.
“In tune with the changing of climate, the Ocean Safety Bureau has responded operationally with roving patrol Jet Ski units,” Vaughan said.
“These units are no longer pinned to a particular lifeguard tower,” he said, adding that they can respond to the “seasonal demands of beach attendance as well as the circumstantial demands of mother nature.”
Oahu guards have mitigated the sightline issue at Ehukai in part by using ATVs more to drive along the beach, Howe said.
These websites contain important information that can keep you safe.
HIOceanSafety: Six things to know before going to the beach in Hawaii.
Hawaii Beach Safety: Updates every 15 minutes with ocean conditions at beaches around the state, current surf and wind reports and the latest hazards and warnings.
Honolulu’s Ocean Safety division is up to 16 mobile units now, which consist of basically a small fire engine type truck with one or two personnel, he said. They launch rescue craft into the water and are used to pick up lifeguards at one tower to bring them to support an emergency elsewhere.
The units broaden the patrol area and are able to be deployed wherever lifeguards are most needed on any given day, a degree of flexibility that will become all the more useful as climate change affects ocean conditions.
Following Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s citywide directive, Howe said a new lifeguard training facility in Ewa Beach and a storage facility in Kailua have been located outside the 3-foot sea level rise exposure area that scientific modeling shows will likely be underwater by the end of this century or sooner.
Howe hopes this will protect pricey life-saving equipment, like all-terrain vehicles and personal watercraft, that must be moved to higher ground when serious storms approach the islands.
The equipment needs to remain easily accessible, but also safe from heavy rains, flooding and whipping winds that the islands are expected to experience more often in the coming years. The new Kailua facility, to be built on a bluff about 250 yards from the beach, is being constructed to withstand Category 2 hurricanes, Howe said.
“That will become important,” he said. “We expect more hurricanes and tropical storm events as impacts of global warming.”
As sea levels rise an expected 3 feet by 2100 — some studies show it could reach 6 feet — waves that would break farther offshore may start pounding closer to the shoreline, he said. That’s because deeper waters don’t allow the waves to dissipate as much.
“Shorebreak is a potential killer,” Fletcher said. “It can slam you and you get your cervical injuries.”
In between sets of waves, all that energy will be surging offshore, potentially creating stronger, pulsating rip currents — and in areas that historically may not have had one.
“The current will increase for seemingly no apparent reason,” Fletcher said. “Wave characteristics on the beach that we’re used to may change if we’re not paying attention.”
On Friday, a Kauai lifeguard roving Kealia beach on an ATV rescued a 21-year-old male visitor who was swimming that afternoon when he got sucked out in a known rip current on the south end.
Lifeguards used CPR and an automated external defibrillator to revive him. Firefighters and medics arrived to help, and he regained his pulse and was taken to the hospital, a county release says.
A warmer and more acidic ocean will do more than just cause corals to bleach, Fletcher said. Reefs may collapse as a result of the unhealthy corals, which could translate to deeper waters and impacts similar to those caused by rising sea levels.
Visitors constituted more than half of 712 ocean drownings during the past decade in Hawaii, far outpacing the rate of local residents. And that’s before climate change further complicates safety efforts.
While a small body of literature says overall wave height in the Pacific will decline because overall wind speed will decrease, there is also science that suggests Hawaii will see extremely large wave seasons on the islands’ north shores due to more frequent and stronger El Niños, Fletcher said.
That’s great news for big wave surfers, potentially dangerous for inexperienced surfers, and not so awesome for most of the surfing community.
“This all triggers a need for the lifeguards to be aware,” Fletcher said, adding that there should be increased climate change training for ocean safety officers.
The packed conference room was glued to their presentations on how climate change, sea level rise and weather patterns affect ocean safety.
Lifeguards have started paying more attention to jellyfish, especially large-scale impacts, Howe said. As the ocean temperature increases from the effects of global warming, jellyfish populations are expected to expand.
Active monitoring is already happening in the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea, off the coast of Spain. Now Honolulu ocean safety officers have begun monitoring changes in jellyfish and hydrozoan populations, Howe said, specifically the Portuguese man-of-war and box jellyfish.
Major changes in overall trends have not been documented, Howe said, but there was a big event Tuesday. Lifeguards posted warning signs and verbally warned hundreds of people about an influx of man-of-war at Windward Oahu beaches.
There were 30 stings and an estimated 500 man-of-war at Makapuu Beach, 80 stings and thousands of man-of-war at Waimanalo Beach, and 100 stings and thousands of man-of-war at Kailua Beach, a Honolulu ocean safety spokeswoman said.
Rising Health Risks
Fletcher also has concerns about more hot, windless days leading to serious health issues or even death, as other parts of the world have experienced.
Howe said Honolulu hasn’t seen an uptick yet but the county is on the lookout. So is Hawaii Health Department Director Bruce Anderson.
“There are increased health risks with rising temperatures,” he said, adding that people with cardiovascular disease are especially at risk when it’s hot outside.
But that’s not the only thing Anderson is watching for when it comes to staying safe in the ocean as the climate changes.
As rainfall patterns change and erosion increases not just along the shoreline but in the mountains, more freshwater will enter the ocean — carrying with it everything it passes along the way. Debris, sewage, trash, chemicals, pesticides.
The state health director anticipates more brown water advisories as climate change affects rainfall and erosion, causing more potentially polluted runoff. Here is Kaneohe Bay after passing showers last year.
Cory Lum/Civil Beat
Certain bacteria is particularly concerning.
“When we have storm events, whether it’s a hurricane or tropical storm, we see heavy rains that causes streams to overflow and we see flooding in low-lying areas,” Anderson said. “When that happens, expect to see increased exposure to bacteria that causes infectious diseases like leptospirosis.”
Last week, advisories were in effect for Kailua Bay on Oahu and Hilo Bay on Hawaii island. The Department of Health’s Clean Water Branch now lets people receive email notifications whenever a beach or brown water advisory is posted or canceled.
“We’ve already seen record rainfalls and more storms coming our way, and we’re posting more beaches as a result of that,” Anderson said. “I can only think that’s going to be an increasingly important risk going forward.”
“A lot of it is just going to be public education so they’re aware of the risk.” — Bruce Anderson, Hawaii health director
The increased flooding also ups the risk of cesspools leaching into streams and the ocean. Hawaii has some 88,000 cesspools — leading the nation — and it’s estimated to cost $1.75 billion to convert them to more sanitary systems.
The Department of Health in 2017 published a report that prioritized the places, mostly rural areas, where cesspools presented the most danger to human wellbeing.
“It’s a big problem,” Anderson said. “A lot of it is just going to be public education so they’re aware of the risk and avoid swimming when we have heavy rains.”
The Department of Health is still working on defining what health risks associated with climate change will be of most concern and is working with other agencies to try to anticipate what will happen.
“Hopefully, we can find ways to address many of those issues,” Anderson said.
Sea Walls Shrinking Beaches
Hawaii taxpayers are already spending millions of dollars to replenish the sand at the most popular beaches, like Waikiki, as erosion eats away the shoreline.
At the same time, county and state agencies are reckoning with policies that for decades have destroyed beaches, whether it’s allowing development too close to the coast to permitting sea walls to protect private property at the expense of public resources.
When a property is armored, it affects neighboring beaches by changing the natural process.
Erosion routinely exposed the concrete foundation of the old Waikiki Tavern at Kuhio Beach. The two photos were taken about six months apart this year.
“When we lose the beach, it does become more dangerous for folks,” Stanbro said.
He anticipates changing dynamics when it comes to ocean safety as Hawaii loses some of its beaches to rising seas and erosion. More people will be jammed onto smaller areas, he said, and there could be more debris in the water. It also gets harder to get in and out of the water.
Hawaii has already seen erosion uncover concrete, rubble and rebar on beaches, the remnants of developments that were buried under sand.
The old foundation of Waikiki Tavern is regularly exposed at Kuhio Beach in Waikiki, Stanbro said, presenting a hazard to beachgoers. The county has tried to ameliorate it with “sand blankets,” and last year the state allocated money toward projects that could provide a permanent fix.
Part of the challenge has been determining whose responsibility it is to clear that stuff out, Stanbro said.
“Humanity has never dealt with this before,” he said. “We don’t have a guidebook.”
*Disclaimer: Sierra Club Hawai’i believes that tree planting is an effective way to combat carbon emissions, heat waves, and restore our native forests. Though, it is a large undertaking to be affective. Our Tree Planting Program (check website for more info) is an opportunity to be a part of the mission to reduce carbon emissions on our islands. However, we still demand policy change to radically shift Hawai’i towards a carbon neutral economy and society.***
Planting trees is now the best way to tackle rising temperatures and climate change, according to a study this week from a group of scientists.
Trees absorb carbon dioxide which means they can help to stop rising temperatures around the world.
They also keep soil moist and reduce the risk of flooding.
So if this is really “the best climate change solution available today” what is being done around the world to plant more trees?
The Great Green Wall:
There is an 8,000 km wall of trees being built in Africa – making it the largest living structure on the planet once it’s finished.
The wall aims to spread across the width of Africa and through more than 20 countries including Senegal, Nigeria and Ethiopia.
The UK government announced it wants more than 10 million trees to be planted across England and it would create a £60 million fund to do so.
That includes £10 million to plant at least 100,000 trees in towns and cities.
The Woodland Trust – the UK’s leading woodland conservation charity – is aiming to plant 64 million trees in the next 10 years. To meet its aim, it’s giving away hundreds of thousands of trees for free to schools and communities to encourage tree planting.