Hawaiʻi Climate Adaptation Initiative

In 2014, the Hawaiʻi State legislature declared through the passage of Act 83, SLH 2014 that climate change is the paramount challenge of this century, posing both an urgent and long-term threat to the State’s economy, sustainability, security, and way of life. Pacific Islands Regional Climate Assessment, published in 2012, documented trends throughout the Pacific, that warmer and drier conditions will decrease fresh water supplies. Rising sea levels, exacerbated by storms, will increase coastal flooding and erosion, damaging coastal ecosystems and infrastructure and affecting agriculture, tourism, military bases, and other industries. Higher sea surface temperatures will increase coral bleaching, leading to coral death and habitat loss. Increasing ocean acidification will have negative consequences for the entire marine ecosystem. In the long term, open ocean fisheries will decline. Rising temperatures, and in some areas reduced rainfall, will increase the risk of extinctions. Threats to the traditional lifestyles of indigenous communities may include destruction of coastal artifacts and structures and reduced availability of traditional food sources and subsistence fisheries, which will make it difficult for Pacific Island communities to sustain their connection with a defined place and their unique set of customs, beliefs, and languages. The legislature further found that beach erosion, drought, and rising temperature are already having measurable impacts on Hawaiʻi and are expected to accelerate in the years to come. With beaches continuing to erode, rain continuing to diminish, and sea levels projected to rise one foot by 2050 and three feet 11 by 2100, Hawaii is highly vulnerable.

The purpose of the Hawaiʻi  Climate Adaptation Initiative Act (Act 83, 2014) is to address the effects of climate change in order to protect the State’s economy, health, environment, and way of life. Act 83 notes that, “Hawaiʻi  is one of the few coastal states that has not adopted a statewide climate adaptation plan, yet is among the most vulnerable.” Act 83 calls for the establishment of an Interagency Climate Adaptation Committee (ICAC), attached administratively to the Hawaiʻi  Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR). The chairperson of the Board of Land and Natural Resources (BLNR) and the director of the Hawaiʻi  Office of Planning (OP), or their designees, share responsibility for coordinating the ICAC.

In response to these increasing threats, the first task of the ICAC is to develop a statewide Sea Level Rise Vulnerability and Adaptation Report (SLR Report) by December 31, 2017. As the only island state in the nation, Hawaii is highly vulnerable to erosion and flooding resulting from high waves, storms, and tsunami. Development and infrastructure is concentrated along low-lying shorelines and beaches. Recent studies by the U.S. Geological Survey and University of Hawaii (UH) researchers find that the majority (70%) of beaches in Hawaii are eroding, with over 13 miles of Hawaii beaches completely lost to erosion over the past century (now characterized by coastal armoring). Rates of sea level rise (SLR) are projected to accelerate throughout this century. This will inevitably result in increased coastal erosion, and increased frequency and severity of coastal flooding events during seasonal high waves.

The DLNR Office of Conservation and Coastal Lands (OCCL) will lead the development of the SLR Report in coordination with the ICAC. The SLR Report will serve as a framework for the State and ICAC to address other climate-related threats and climate change adaptation priorities, ultimately leading to a Climate Adaptation Plan for the State of Hawaiʻi , which will be prepared by the OP.