For Hawaii’s conservation and clean energy advocates, 2030 is an important year.

By that point, officials say, the state will need to have cut its planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions in half, compared to 2005 levels, in order to stay on course and go carbon neutral as planned by 2045.

It’s also the state’s self-imposed deadline to protect and manage 30% of the island chain’s nearshore waters, via the Holomua: Marine 30×30 conservation effort.

Meanwhile, 2030 also happens to be right about when Hawaii’s next governor could leave office if they’re reelected to a second term, as most of them have been.

That means whomever voters elect as the state’s top executive this election could have an enormous impact on whether Hawaii meets its ambitious goals of ditching fossil fuels fast enough to effectively fight the effects of climate change, advocates say. 

EV electric vehicle chargers at Ala Moana Shopping Center.
Increasing Hawaii’s use of electric vehicles is one strategy environmental advocates want to see in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021

“It’s precisely that time period when we need to reduce those emissions,” Melissa Miyashiro, executive director of the Honolulu nonprofit Blue Planet Foundation, said of the upcoming eight years. “There has been some progress made, but we have a long way to go.”

The top candidates heading into the Aug. 13 primary include Lt. Gov. Josh Green, Congressman Kai Kahele and businesswoman and former First Lady Vicky Cayetano on the Democratic side, and former Lt. Gov. Duke Aiona, retired MMA fighter BJ Penn, contractor Gary Cordery and Honolulu City Council member Heidi Tsuneyoshi on the Republican side.

Hawaii has made decent progress in recent years converting to clean energy, Miyashiro said, but it hasn’t made nearly the same progress converting to clean transportation — switching from gas-powered cars to electric ones as well as more biking, walking, transit and other alternative modes of getting around.

That will be a top priority while working with Hawaii’s next governor, she said. “We have a lot of work to do in decarbonizing transportation.”

Miyashiro said Blue Planet would also like to see the next governor help make Hawaii’s tourism industry, which now draws approximately 10 million visitors a year, cleaner and more sustainable.

That could include fully electric fleets of rental cars and tour buses, plus ensuring that hotels have enough charging stations for those vehicles, she said.

Blue Planet Executive Director Melissa Miyashiro said Hawaii’s next governor will have to handle multiple pressing issues while keeping pace with the state’s ambitious climate goals. Screenshot

It could further mean developing sustainable fuels for air travel, including electric-powered and hydrogen-powered planes, to help offset the large amount of carbon emissions generated by flights to and from the islands, she said.

In 2017, the most recent year with data available, Hawaii generated more than 20 million metric tons of carbon dioxide – most of that from the energy and transportation sectors, according to a 2021 report from the state Department of Health.

The report doesn’t contain 2005 data, which the state considers a benchmark in considering its future reductions. The closest year included is 2007, when Hawaii reportedly pumped 26 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the air.

Megan Lamson, board president of Hawaii Wildlife Fund, stressed the nonprofit, a largely volunteer-driven group that organizes marine-debris cleanups and initiatives to help conserve the islands’ endangered native plants and animals, doesn’t issue endorsements. 

She added, however, that “we are paying attention to candidates who are willing to talk about climate change and plan to take meaningful actions to reduce our local contribution and keep us on track to be carbon neutral by 2045” as well as meeting the state’s 2030 conservation goals.

Gaining Ground Toward A ‘Green’ Fee

Meanwhile, creating a visitor-impact fee, or “green” fee, to better protect the state’s natural resources will be the top priority for The Nature Conservancy of Hawaii heading into the next governor’s term, said Anthony Ching, the local nonprofit’s external affairs director.

Progress has been somewhat slow on the state’s 30×30 management effort, according to Ching. The revenues from such a fee could help give that initiative a boost, he said. 

Advocates and officials have generally proposed that fee be about $40 or $50 per visitor to the state. It’s even received support from the state’s tourism sector. Nonetheless, a measure to create the fee passed the Senate but died in the House during this year’s legislative session.

Ching said he’s not sure what stalled the measure, but he thinks lawmakers and stakeholders want to consider more the best way to administer the fee. He hopes that it will get passed sometime in the next governor’s term.

Workers from the Molokai Land Trust assist in installing new special fencing at the The Mokio Preserve located on the west side of Molokai.
Workers from the Molokai Land Trust assist in installing new special fencing at the Mokio Preserve located on the west side of Molokai. Leaders with The Nature Conservancy in Hawaii say they’ll push for the next governor to approve a visitor-based “green” fee that would support efforts to protect natural resources. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

In their recent, hourlong “Job Interview” sessions with Hawaii News Now and Civil Beat, Green and Cayetano each brought up the idea of a green fee and said they supported it. Tsuneyoshi said such a fee could help fund infrastructure improvements but would do little to reduce the number of tourists arriving in Hawaii.

Green has said the fee could raise an additional $350 million or so in revenue each year for the state, assuming that it’s priced at $50 and around 7 million visitors arrive each year instead of 10 million. 

However, Green has also suggested the state use those proceeds to help offset his proposed cut of excise taxes on food and medicine. The state Tax Department has estimated that a blanket tax exemption on all grocery sales would cost the state some $268 million a year. If Green’s proposal goes through, it remains unclear how much of the climate impact fee proceeds would go toward natural resource protection.

Kamilo Beach Megan Korean Octopus Trap
Hawaii Wildlife Fund President Megan Lamson said the group is paying attention to gubernatorial candidates that are willing to hold the state to its 2030 goals on climate and conservation. Kuʻu Kauanoe/Civil Beat/2020

Kahele, meanwhile, didn’t specifically mention green fees when discussing climate change in his interview with HNN and Civil Beat. He called the state’s 2045 carbon-neutral goal “bold” but “possible.”

“It’s going to require tough decisions. Tough conversations need to be had, and ultimately leadership to bring that to fruition,” Kahele said during that session.

The Sierra Club of Hawaii said its main priorities in the coming term will be to make the islands more resilient to climate change and the community better prepared against the growing threat of natural disasters.

That includes shoring up food and water security, plus tapping more Indigenous knowledge from the Native Hawaiian community for how to best manage local resources, Executive Director Wayne Tanaka said.

Miyashiro, at Blue Planet, said the next governor will need to be able to handle urgent, competing issues such as the state’s dearth of affordable housing and its skyrocketing cost of living, while also furthering Hawaii toward achieving its climate and environmental goals.

It will require a “courageous” chief executive for Hawaii, she said. “The status quo is not going to get us there.”

Civil Beat’s coverage of climate change is supported by the Environmental Funders Group of the Hawaii Community Foundation, Marisla Fund of the Hawaii Community Foundation and the Frost Family Foundation.

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