Editor’s Note: On Monday, Hawaii will hold a climate change conference to discuss the state’s pioneering efforts to address a warming planet. The public is encouraged to attend and bring digital devices to take advantage of interactive participation.

Last month, countries came together in Katowice, Poland, to outline a “Rulebook for Paris.” In other words, it detailed how the Paris Agreement will be implemented.

Next week, Hawaii’s own Climate Change Commission’s conference will show how a small state with big ambitions can lead the states united, by taking big action at the subnational level. Hawaii has a 100 percent renewable energy and a net zero carbon goal for 2045, five years before even the European Union.

To implement this ambition, Hawaii needs to do some innovative and fast thinking and translate this into action.

Workers take down large Palm trees at Sunset Beach with eroded bike path in foreground.
Erosion is already taking its toll on Sunset Beach on Oahu’s North Shore. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

To the casual onlooker, after a quarter century of collective inaction, Katowice’s COP24 was just more of the same. But for the U.S., it was different.

Action has shifted to the state level and taken on a different cadence since the election of the current administration. Hawaii rounded out a delegation of U.S. states to COP24, including California, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Washington.

These five states belong to the larger U.S. Climate Alliance, a gubernatorial effort to influence the global dialog on climate change. This bipartisan alliance represents 40 percent of the national population and a $9 trillion economy, which, if it were a country, would be bigger than all but the U.S. and China.

What became clear at Katowice is that the most dynamic action on climate change is moving down to the subnational and local levels, where millions of small decisions will ultimately be made and result in the success or failure of the broad Paris Agreement goals.

Now it is time for Hawaii’s response to climate change to mirror its ambition. In fact, Hawaii has little choice but to do so.

Despite relatively low total emissions, places like Hawaii must deal with rising seas, increasing storm intensity and increasing climate vulnerability. Ultimately, the subnational level is where the impacts are felt, yet the financing and expertise are not always available at these levels.

Ha o ke Kai, the theme of the conference, means the breath of the ocean — but more pragmatically, it embodies how Hawaii’s residents must adapt to the effects of climate change. Hawaii’s conference will bring together subject matter experts from across the state and the nation.

They will grapple with this hardest of questions: How to adapt to climate impacts while transitioning to a zero-carbon economy?

For Hawaii, as for other subnational governments, it will be crucial to grow in a manner that is clean, equitable and resilient as we move toward our own clean energy goals. A global framework helps provide tools, ideas and examples for a state government wishing to do the right thing for its people, to whom it is accountable.

The Katowice Climate Package, as the “Rulebook” is more formally known, asks parties to bring increased ambition to the table in 2020. To kickstart this increased ambition, the Secretary General of the United Nations announced a climate summit at the next General Assembly meeting in 2019.

More meetings, more announcements, and more hot air from the politicos? Perhaps.

But for Hawaii, this means a framework within which to operate. For a small set of volcanic rocks in a very large ocean, to stay plugged in and connected to the larger world is not easy — the Katowice Climate Package helps Hawaii think of its own version of a climate package.

And next week’s conference brings all hands on deck to continue a robust dialog that will put climate response at the state level into overdrive.

The Hawaii Climate Conference is scheduled from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday at the East-West Center, Imin Conference Center, 1777 East-West Road in Honolulu. Click here for more information, including the program, speakers and details.

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