Hawaii governor urges bolder climate action: Net zero is 'not good enough'

Hawaii governor urges bolder climate action: Net zero is 'not good enough'
© Associated Press/Audrey McAvoy

Hawaii Gov. David Ige (D) called on Monday for global emission reduction goals that aspire beyond "net-zero," as island communities continue to bear the disproportionate effects of climate change.

The Biden administration has pushed for a goal of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions within the next few decades, under which the U.S. would seek to eliminate or offset climate pollution entirely. 

But Hawaii has gone further, with Ige telling other governors gathered at the U.N. Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow that his state is "committed to a net-negative goal by 2045, or as soon as practicable, because we know that zero is not good enough."

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“As islands, we are directly threatened by sea level rise, rain bombs and coral bleaching,” he said. “All of those things get even more intense if we are unable to maintain global warming to less than 1.5 degrees.”

Hawaii faced a severe hurricane season in 2015 followed by “intense rain bombs” in 2018 — phenomena that Ige said are “threatening our existence” and require immediate action.

While Hawaii was the first state to commit to 100 percent renewable energy — and plans to fulfill this pledge by 2035 — state officials now recognize that net-zero goals would be insufficient, according to the governor.

Ige underscored the need to transform his state's transportation infrastructure, including aviation and marine transit. Hawaii is currently working on electric planes for inter-island flights, as well as aircraft that operate on sustainable fuels for longer-haul journeys, the governor said.

State officials are also looking into switching inter-island shipping to local, sustainable biofuels, as well as hydrogen to power medium- and heavy-duty vehicles and equipment, according to Ige. Hawaii has also prioritized investments in natural resources, with a goal of capturing more carbon than the state emits, he said.

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“We did see one of the silver linings in this pandemic,” Ige said. “As all businesses and organizations went to working from home, we saw how rapidly our air cleared and our oceans restored our vibrant coral communities. And we do know that if we give our nature an opportunity, they will help us more than we ever realized.”

Washington Gov. Jay InsleeJay Robert InsleeThe Hill's Morning Report - Biden, NATO eye 'all scenarios' with Russia Legislatures move to limit governor powers after pandemic What if politicians were required to tell the truth? MORE (D) also spoke at Monday's forum in Glasgow, Scotland, expressing optimism that climate action on a local level is moving in the right direction. He noted that a group of 68 state, regional and local leaders met Sunday, calling themselves the “Super National Action Coalition.”

These leaders signed a range of emissions reductions commitments, including pledges to require 100 percent of new car sales to be zero-emission vehicles by 2035 and 100 percent zero-carbon energy by 2045, according to Inslee’s office.

While the U.N. might refer to the group as “subnational governments,” Inslee stressed that they are, in fact, “super” in their ambitions. The group, he said, represents more than 400 million people — which collectively would be equivalent to the third-largest nation state and account for 20 percent of the world’s gross domestic product.

“What you're seeing are some governors that can really move the needle,” Inslee said. “We have some new sheriffs in town."

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Oregon Gov. Kate BrownKate BrownStates turning to National Guard for COVID-19 help as omicron surges Oregon declares state of emergency as area braces for winter storm Oregon extends state of emergency due to omicron spread MORE (D), meanwhile, stressed the importance of collaboration within her state, highlighting Oregon’s plans to work with both the business sector and with Indigenous populations to accelerate the clean energy transition. Oregon, she continued, plans to provide 100 percent of its power from renewable sources by 2040.

“We have not only an economic imperative to tackle climate change; we have a moral one,” Brown said. “Future generations will judge us not on the fact of climate change, but what we have done to tackle it.”

Brown said she never imagined that she “would be standing on the remains of over 4,000 homes that burned to the ground, or that our wildfires would grow so big that the smoke would stretch all the way from Oregon on the West coast to New York over 3,000 miles away.”

“Unfortunately,” she said, “it doesn’t stop there.”