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.