Scientists are also working to integrate Indigenous intelligence as part of efforts to combat climate change.

In Alaska, Hawaii and the Pacific’s many nations and territories, climate change is no longer the wolf at the door, “the wolf is in the house right now.”

That metaphor for the immediate risk that climate change poses, was evoked by a panel of U.S. government representatives speaking at the final day of the 20th Pacific Risk Management Ohana Conference in Honolulu.

But there is still cause for optimism, according to Richard Spinrad, the administrator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, who says recent injections into NOAA’s coffers worth $6 billion — through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act — shows climate change has climbed the list of the government’s priority.

Recent announcements, such as the proposed creation of a new marine sanctuary for Hawaii, underscored the current administration’s commitment to the region, Spinrad says.

That’s in part because of the 49th and 50th states, Spinrad says, where climate change’s effects are most obvious.

“Think about that. The most northern, arctic state and the United States’ tropical state are both seeing the wolf in the house right now,” Spinrad said from the podium. “If we do not make changes … we have only ourselves to be held accountable for what will happen when the younger people in the audience are sitting up in the front.”

Along with the several programs and investments made in NOAA, representatives of the U.S. Departments of Defense, Interior and State spoke at the event, sharing what issues and solutions each agency had with an eye to the Pacific.

Panelist William Werkheiser, science advisor to the Secretary of the Interior, underscored the importance of Indigenous intelligence and consistent collaboration between agencies and Pacific communities to inform actions at the regional level.

“The problems you (Hawaii) have that are here, they’re complex. I heard that many times. Now we’re talking about cascading disasters in one aspect, one disaster after another,” Werkheiser said.

Trigg Talley, Senior Advisor to the Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry, said a recent and “real reset in our relationships with island countries, globally,” had led to commitments to funding for loss and damage associated with the climate change.

And to bolster its commitment, Talley said the U.S. was working on finding ways to mitigate risks before inevitable, seasonal disasters occur.

“We will develop funding arrangements for this whole area of work,” Talley said.

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