Governor signs order to tackle climate change
Alaska Governor Bill Walker last week signed an administrative order that established the Alaska Climate Change Strategy and Climate Action for Alaska Leadership Team.
The strategy aims to create a framework to build a strategic response to climate change. The order reads, “Scientific research and indigenous knowledge indicate that climate change threatens the availability and quality of these resources within our state, with associated risks to our health, safety, and economic future. As the northernmost state, Alaska is America’s Arctic, and our state’s communities face accelerating rates of erosion, rising sea levels, ocean acidification, rapidly thawing permafrost, and changing intensity of wildland fires. These physical changes threaten people’s safety and security, undermine the social and cultural fabric of our communities, and disproportionately affect those on the frontlines of climate change.”
The order’s purpose is to develop “innovative solutions to the challenges of a rapidly changing climate, informed by the best available science and technology, integration of indigenous and local knowledge, and consideration of Alaska’s economic interests.”
Interestingly, the Governor ordered the strategy to ensure Alaska’s future prosperity first before mentioning protection to its citizens. The order talks about community input to “provide equitable support to communities impacted the most by climate change” and to ensure that “Alaska communities and businesses have the support necessary to benefit from the educational and economic opportunities created by the global response to climate change.”
The governor ordered the creation of the Climate Action for Alaska Leadership team, which is to develop a plan of action that are to address mitigation, adaptation, research and response actions.
The team is also tasked to consider renewable energy and energy efficiency, social health and economic assessments, economic opportunity and technological innovation and lists lastly emergency response and immediate action.
The Leadership Team will include up to 15 public members that provide broad, Alaska-based representation from key stakeholder groups including local governments, indigenous organizations, private sector entities, educators and academia, youth and others. Public members will be appointed by the Governor to serve a three-year term at the pleasure of the Governor. The Leadership Team will include a representative from the University of Alaska, a representative from the Alaska Energy Authority, the Commissioner of the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development, the Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation, and the Commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources. The team would be chaired by Lt. Governor Byron Mallott. Applications from interested members of the public will be accepted until November 14.
The Leadership Team is tasked to present to the Governor an initial plan of action not later than September 1, 2018, including recommended statutory and regulatory changes. After that, the Leadership Team will monitor the implementation of climate actions approved by the Governor and provide continued recommendations, timely updates, and additional initiatives to the recommended plan of action. The Leadership Team is supposed to present an annual report to the Governor by September 1 of each year.
The signing of the order was viewed skeptically by a group of youth. “I was confused after listening to Governor Walker’s press conference this morning,” said Sebastien Kurland, 18, of Juneau. “He is just redeclaring the subcommittee Palin started with no new plan of action. This order is out of touch and not do anything to protect my future or those of my fellow Alaskans.”
Kurland and 15 other young Alaska earlier this summer petitioned the Alaska Dept. of Environmental Conservation for a climate change rule making that would have curbed Alaska’s CO2 emissions, inventory substantial sources of greenhouse gas emissions and adopt a Climate Action Plan.
DEC Commissioner Larry Hartig denied the request on legal and economic grounds. The youth took exception to Hartig’s line of argument that “The extent of emission reductions proposed in the petition would have significant consequences for employment, resource development, power generation, health, culture, and other economic and social interests within the state.”
The youth group includes Shishmaref’s Esau Sinnok, 19, who filed through the nonprofit organization Our Children’s Trust a lawsuit last week alleging that the state is violating their constitutional rights by putting fossil fuel production above the safety of their lives. Sixteen young Alaskans filed the constitutional climate change lawsuit against the State of Alaska, Governor Bill Walker, DEC Commissioner Larry Hartig and five state agencies. Attorneys representing the youth filed the case, Sinnok v. Alaska, in the Superior Court for the State of Alaska Third Judicial District at Anchorage.
“Climate change is already harming, and threatens the very existence of my home village of Shishmaref and my native culture,” Sinnok said. “Because of climate change, the island where my ancestors have lived for over 4,000 years is being eroded away into the sea. My children might not be able to see what life on Shishmaref once was. It’s time Alaska stop promoting fossil fuels at the expense of young people and start protecting our rights to a stable climate system.”