Commemorating Earth Day, city leaders on Thursday released what’s being called Honolulu’s first ever “climate action plan,” with steps that aim to significantly reduce the island’s planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions.

The plan, dubbed “One Climate: One Oahu,” features nine key strategies to make three sectors within the city’s control more environmentally sustainable: ground transportation, electricity and waste. It aims to nudge the entire state closer to its ambitious goal of going carbon neutral by 2045.

The strategies include efforts to bolster electric vehicle use, electrify the city’s bus fleet, make city buildings more energy efficient, encourage high-density development and make it easier to convert to renewable energy sources, among others. 

But the plan also arrives as the island’s emissions have been trending the wrong way. 

electric bus
City officials displayed at the Blaisdell Center on Thursday one of three electric buses to recently join TheBus’ fleet. An additional 15 electric buses are on the way, they said. Marcel Honore/Civil Beat2021

Despite Oahu’s growing use of renewable energy, carbon dioxide emissions have nonetheless increased from 15.1 million metric tons in 2017 to 16.2 million metric tons in 2019, according to the city’s 2021 annual sustainability report, which was also released Thursday. 

The new climate action plan blames transportation for the net growth in greenhouse gas pollution. The 2020 numbers haven’t been released yet, city officials said.

Correction: An earlier version of this story said that vehicle emissions were mostly to blame. The annual sustainability report states that the primary cause is air travel.

“There’s a lot of work ahead, and that’s really important to recognize because our emissions are charting in the wrong direction,” Matt Gonser, the city’s chief resilience officer, said at a press conference Thursday.

Gonser also serves as executive director of the city’s Office of Climate Change, Sustainability and Resiliency, which currently faces the steepest budget cuts of any city department thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, at 22%.

Gonser said Thursday that the cuts to his department would not hurt the city’s long-term climate goals because many of the projects are already underway. 

The climate action plan is slated to be updated every five years, city officials said. The strategies released Thursday are projected to reverse the recent growth in carbon pollution and to reduce the emissions in the target sectors by 80% by 2045 compared to 2015. 

More aggressive steps will be needed to hit 100% by 2045, the report acknowledges. That’s what’s needed to reach the state’s carbon-neutral goals. 

Furthermore, even reducing what it can control by 100%, the city doesn’t have control over air travel, oil refinery production and several other key sources of local carbon pollution. Thus, they’re not covered in the city’s plan.

“For Oahu to become carbon neutral by 2045, it will require the City, State and Federal governments going many steps further than this (plan),” the report states.

Still, Mayor Rick Blangiardi and members of his cabinet presented the green shoots of what they hope will become substantial projects. 

Honolulu’s 550-vehicle bus fleet now includes three electric buses with 15 more on the way, Director for Transportation Services Roger Morton said. Those electric buses can travel 150 miles on a single charge and they’ll start on TheBus’ Route 40, which runs from Makaha and Waianae on the Leeward Coast to Ala Moana Center.

“We want to share our technology in an equitable way with all parts of our island,” Morton said. 

DTS recently expanded its grid of protected urban bike lanes by adding one along Ward Avenue, and has plans to add lanes along Bishop and Punchbowl streets next.

The city also plans to make some $51 million worth of energy-efficiency upgrades to various buildings and facilities across the island. It expects the energy savings to cover the costs plus net an additional $9 million in savings, according to Brody McMurtry of Johnson Controls, which sought the potential upgrades for the city.

Implementing them will reduce the islands’ dependence on foreign oil, McMurtry said Thursday.

Gonser added that the city recognizes it needs to do better planning renewable projects and listening to community feedback in order to avoid situations similar to the 2019 mass protests and arrests over the proposed Kahuku wind turbines.

In a statement Thursday, Honolulu-based clean-energy nonprofit Blue Planet called the city’s plan “effective” not just for the carbon reduction proposals, but also for “its recognition of the critical need for an equitable and just transition.”

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