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Sea Level Rise Report Accepted by New State Climate Commission

December 29, 2017, 7:29 AM HST · Updated December 29, 7:52 AM
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Sea Level Rise Report released.

The Hawai‘i Climate Change Mitigation & Adaptation Commission has accepted its first major report since its formation last fall. The Sea Level Rise Vulnerability & Adaptation Report is a comprehensive 304-page-long description of where Hawai‘i is today and where we will be in the future as sea level rise increases with global warming.

The report, developed under the leadership of the DLNR Office of Conservation and Coastal Lands, was initially mandated by Act 83 in 2014 and was expanded by Act 32 in 2017 and provides the first state-wide assessment of Hawai‘i’s vulnerability to sea level rise.

It includes recommendations to reduce exposure to sea level rise along with recommendations to increase our capacity to adapt.

Initiated under the Interagency Climate Adaptation Committee, which then morphed into the Climate Commission, the SLR report provides recommendations to improve our resiliency to sea level rise based on a combination of advanced planning practices and risk exposure reduction initiatives which were framed through extensive stakeholder consultations over a three year period.

DLNR Chair Suzanne Case co-chairs the Climate Commission with State Office of Planning Director Leo Asuncion. Case said, “While the SLR report focuses on sea level rise vulnerabilities and adaptation, it should also strengthen Hawai‘i’s resolve to do our part in reducing greenhouse gas emissions in line with Act 32 and the Paris Agreement.”

Asuncion commented, “This report is intended to serve as a framework for identifying and managing other climate change threats facing Hawai‘i.” The SLR report was completed in advance of the Dec. 31, 2017 deadline.

The report’s executive summary states, “Shorelines are one of our planet’s most dynamic physical features and Hawai‘i’s are no exception. Communities along our shores have flourished for centuries in harmony with the ebb and flow of the tides, punctuated by the occasional devastating hurricane or tsunami event. However, rapid warming of the atmosphere and oceans, caused by two centuries of unabated carbon emissions, is causing increasing rates of sea level rise, unprecedented in human history, threatening natural environments and development on low-lying coasts.”

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The authors of the report note that much of what happens with future SLR depends on the ability or inability of nations to implement aggressive carbon emissions reductions, envisioned through the 2016 Paris Agreement.

Hawaii and a group of 16 US States are part of a US Climate Alliance that is honoring the US commitment, made under President Barak Obama, to reduce its carbon emissions under the guidelines of the Paris Agreement.

The report is available for viewing online. Additionally DLNR is releasing a one-half-hour television special, Rising Seas in Hawai‘i, in mid-January. It is scheduled for three broadcasts on KFVE-TV at 7 p.m. on Jan. 17, at 9:30 p.m. on Jan. 20 and at 4 p.m. on Jan. 21, 2017. The special chronicles the stories of people and places already dealing with sea level rise and features some of the adaptation recommendations included in the Sea Level Rise Vulnerability & Adaptation Report.

Maui specific information included in the report includes some of the following highlights:

Key Take Aways

  • Over the next 30 to 70 years, homes and businesses located near the shoreline will be severely impacted by sea level rise. Nearly 300 structures would be chronically flooded with 3.2 feet of sea level rise.
  • Of the 3,130 acres of land located within the SLR-XA, approximately a third of those lands are designated for urban land uses.
  • With 3.2 feet of sea level rise, more than 11 miles of major coastal roads would become impassible jeopardizing critical access to and from many communities.
  • Maui has lost more than 4 miles of beaches to coastal erosion fronting seawalls and other shoreline armoring. Many more miles of beach could be lost with sea level rise, if widespread armoring is allowed.
  • A more detailed economic loss analysis is needed of Maui’s critical infrastructure, including harbor facilities, airport facilities, sewage treatment plants, and roads. State and Counties should consider potential benefits in terms of long-term cost savings from implementing sea level rise adaption measures now (e.g., major flood proofing or relocation) compared to the cost of maintaining and repairing chronically threatened public infrastructure over the next 30 to 70 years.

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