Actions to confront climate change announced by state

Walker says state will work toward increased energy affordability

State officials say they plan some immediate steps to confront climate change, from lowering emissions and energy costs to addressing villages at risk from erosion, flooding and permafrost degradation and assessing climate effects on Alaska’s fisheries.

The announcement on Sept. 26 from the Walker administration came after the Climate Action Leadership Team appointed by Gov. Bill Walker delivered its recommendations on mitigating and adapting to climate change,

“Alaska is ground zero for climate change,” said Walker. “White that poses serious challenges, it also makes us uniquely positioned to understand climate issues, develop innovative responses, and share them with others.”

It is a critical responsibility of the state government to work toward increased energy affordability and healthy, resilient communities that can prosper as the environment changes, he said.

The team presented Walker with two documents summarizing recommended policy changes and action plans. The first is a broad outline of six policy areas aimed at strengthening climate change resilience, to include communities and partnerships, human and ecosystem health, economic opportunity, clean energy, outreach and education, and investment.

The second includes several dozen potential actions for the state to review, research and take action on as resources allow.

Climate change is hardly a new issue facing Alaska, which has a long history of trying to understand the challenges and opportunities these issues present to the state. On Oct. 31, 2017, Walker, who is seeking a second term as governor, signed Administrative Order 289, establishing the Alaska Climate Change Strategy and the Climate Action for Alaska Leadership Team. The order called for state agencies to review their precious work on climate change and identify immediate actions to be taken.

“The science is very clear that emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels are the root cause of these changes,” said Michael LeVine, of Juneau, senior Arctic fellow at Ocean Conservancy, and a member of the leadership team.

The recommended policy changes and action plan “reflect a commitment to address the devastating threats posed by climate change and to seize the leadership opportunities that are created in crafting the recommended policy and action plan, LeVine said. “It is clear that bold action and unwavering commitment are required. We hope that our state leaders will meet that challenge and work to implement the recommended policy and actions,” he said.

The action plan, said LeVine, is a menu of things that could be done. “We did not attempt to prioritize them. The right next step would be to figure out which combination of things would best ensure resilient communities and economies and help transition to a sustainable energy economy. The state has an opportunity and can take steps to take advantage of the opportunity created to be a world leader in renewable energy and community resilience.

“It isn’t easy, but Alaskans are used to tackling difficult tasks, and we must,” he said. “Climate change is an Alaska issue and we have to take meaningful action.”

The report also drew kudos from Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Larry Hartig, who said the collaborative efforts of the Walker’s Climate Cabinet, an internal working group of state agencies, will be a great springboard to reviewing the leadership team’s recommendations. His agency is committed to working with communities and industry to build on current data on greenhouse gas emissions to help Alaskans understand our carbon footprint, he said.

Janet Reier, executive director of the Alaska Energy Authority, said that AEA is working with stakeholders across the state to identify and implement strategic and customized solutions to meet consumer energy needs now and into the future, with safe, reliable and affordable energy sources.

Department of Transportation Commissioner Marc Luiken added that his agency’s energy office has completed energy savings performance projects in 69 state owned facilities, with a cumulative annual cost savings greater than $3.3 million. “We are confident that we can expand this program to more facilities and achieve a greater energy savings for the state of Alaska while we keep Alaska moving through service and infrastructure,” he said.

Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Sam Cotten and Fred Parady, acting commissioner of the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development, also applauded the plan.

Cotton said the plan would bring together scientists to examine in detail the hard science surrounding climate change and its current and future effect on Alaska’s ocean resources.

Prady said his agency is identifying early actions to protect life and property and address longer term needs.

More information on the recommended policy changes and action plan are online at http://climatechange.gov.alaska.gov

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Margaret Bauman is a veteran Alaska journalist focused on covering fisheries and environmental issues. Bauman has been writing for The Cordova Times since 2010. You can reach her at mbauman@thecordovatimes.com.