Disgusted by President Trump’s decision Thursday to pull the United States out of the Paris climate accord, elected officials and nonprofit leaders in Hawaii said they are not backing down from their commitments to combat global warming.

State Rep. Chris Lee, who chairs the House Energy and Environmental Protection Committee, said the president’s decision to withdraw from the agreement, signed by 195 nations, hurts an island state like Hawaii most of all.

“Local progress replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy has already saved Hawaii a third of a billion dollars and reduced carbon emissions,” Lee said in a statement. “However, undermining action addressing climate change elsewhere means accelerating global warming and sea level rise that will more quickly erode our beaches, endanger coastal communities, diminish our fresh water supply, and expose our families to stronger and more frequent hurricanes at great cost to our people and way of life in the islands.”

Rep Chris Lee speaks during abortion discussion floor House. 11 april 2017
Rep. Chris Lee says President Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris agreement leaves Hawaii most vulnerable. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The Paris agreement set a goal of limiting the global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and laid out plans for countries to work together to adapt to the adverse effects of climate change while setting their own national priorities.

The United States, which is the second-biggest polluter on the planet, was to give up to $3 billion in aid to developing countries by 2020 and lower its greenhouse gas emissions roughly 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025.

The chief executive officers of major airlines, banks, car manufacturers and others backed the accord for business reasons, while conservationists supported it for the ways it would save species from extinction.

Trump’s own administration was divided. His daughter Ivanka Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, former CEO of Exxon Mobil, tried to convince the president not to pull out. Ultimately, Stephen Bannon, the president’s chief strategist, and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt won the day, according to media reports.

While Hawaii has made significant strides in reducing its own greenhouse gas emissions, particularly through an increase in renewable energy, that won’t spare the islands from the global effects of climate change so local officials have been taking steps to prepare.

State and county officials said they remain committed to local climate change programs. Courtesy: Jacques Descloitres/NASA

At the state level, the Legislature in May passed a bill to beef up its mitigation and adaptation efforts.

The measure, introduced by Sen. J. Kalani English, transforms the Interagency Climate Adaptation Committee, created in 2014, into the Hawaii Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation Commission. Its 14 members are to include most state department heads, county planners and key lawmakers.

They will be tasked with coordinating planning, developing strategies and setting goals as well as identifying vulnerable communities, ecosystems and industries. The commission’s first comprehensive review is due in 2023.

The adaptation committee that the commission will replace July 1, assuming Gov. David Ige signs the bill into law as expected, has been working on a major sea-level rise study, which is due by December. The draft report shows a $1.7 billion direct economic impact to Hawaii if the sea level rises 1 foot by 2050, a conservative estimate.

“The effects of climate change are real, as seen primarily with sea level rise in the Pacific,” English said in a statement. “The measure adopted relevant sections of the Paris Agreement as state law, which gives us legal basis to continue adaptation and mitigation strategies for Hawaii, despite the federal government’s withdrawal from the treaty.”

Senator Kalani English Alexander Baldwin presser. 20 april 2016.
Sen. J. Kalani English introduced a bill that passed the Legislature last month to strengthen Hawaii’s efforts to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

At the county level, Honolulu voters in November created the Office of Climate Change, Sustainability and Resiliency to ensure the latest science is factored into policies and plans for projects.

“The decision by the Trump Administration to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord is an abandonment of American leadership and a threat to island communities like our own here in Hawaii,” Mayor Kirk Caldwell said in a statement.

“We are committed to a 100 percent renewable energy future and working to reduce our emissions from city facilities and fleets,” Caldwell said. “My administration is dedicated to continuing on the ‘Paris path’ and I am confident that this void of federal leadership will be filled by local governments, cities and mayors across the nation.”

Hawaii’s Democratic congressional delegation — U.S. Reps. Colleen Hanabusa and Tulsi Gabbard and Sens. Brian Schatz and Mazie Hirono — also criticized Trump’s decision.

“President Trump’s decision today highlights one of the fundamental differences between Republicans and Democrats and it is a sad statement that Republicans continue to refute science and the will of the international community on an issue of global importance,” Hanabusa said in a statement.

Mayor Kirk Caldwell presser post legislature adjournment1. 4 may 2017
Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell said Trump’s decision to quit the Paris accord is an “abandonment of American leadership.” Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Gabbard noted how the decision to withdraw makes the U.S. one of just three countries in the world not to participate, calling it “short-sighted and irresponsible.” Syria and Nicaragua were the only countries that did not sign the accord, which took effect in November.

“Without global action to drastically curb carbon pollution, climate change threatens the safety and security of the planet, especially in places like Hawaii where we are already experiencing its devastating effects,” she said in a statement.

“The 2015 hurricane season set a record of 15 tropical storms in Hawaii, acidification of our oceans has killed marine ecosystems and fisheries, bleached coral reefs, while causing damage to local economies,” she added. “The United States should be leading by example, leveraging innovation through science and technology, investing in clean energy, creating renewable energy jobs that cannot be outsourced, growing the economy, enhancing U.S. energy independence, and lowering energy costs for families and businesses, while reducing carbon emissions.”

Clean-energy nonprofit Blue Planet Foundation Executive Director Jeff Mikulina called Trump’s decision “fundamentally at odds” with climate science, global leadership and a healthy planet.

Visitors sit on beach as tides rise fronting Castle Waikiki Shore as larger surf might cause more inundation of Waikiki shoreline. 24 may 2017
Visitors sit on a disappearing beach when a “king tide” came in last week, also causing flooding in low-lying inland areas. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2017

“Trump’s irresponsible action today imperils our best chance to limit the existential threat of climate change,” he said in a statement.

The “king tides” that Hawaii experienced last week offered a preview of what could be the new normal with sea level rise, where the ocean causes low-lying areas to flood and erodes the shoreline. And Blue Planet noted that ocean acidification, caused by increased concentrations of carbon dioxide in the ocean, has the potential to decimate fisheries and the coral reefs that simultaneously protect the islands and stimulate the economy.

Trump said at a press conference at the White House that the Paris climate accord is the latest example of Washington entering into an agreement that disadvantages the United States to the exclusive benefit of other countries, leaving American workers and taxpayers to absorb the cost.

He said the United States will cease all implementation of the agreement and “the draconian financial and economic burdens the agreement imposes on our country.” He said this includes ending the implementation of the nationally determined contribution to the Green Climate Fund.

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