Friday, November 23, 2018

New federal climate report: Hawaii impacts severe and already here

Climate change isn't coming; it's already here.

A new national report lays out the many ways in which the Hawaiian Islands are already in the grip of severe changes, from our nearshore waters to our highest peaks.

The short version: Fresh water supplies are threatened in multiple ways; Coastlines are eroding and rising salt water is damaging coastal infrastructure; Fisheries are seeing lower yields; Wildlife is disappearing.

The Fourth National Climate Assessment, Volume II, prepared by the U.S. Global Change Research Program, looks at the effects of the global climate crisis across the nation, and includes an entire section on Hawai`i and the Pacific.

Climate indicators and impacts.
From 4th NCA Vol2
It follows up on Volume 1, the Climate Science Special Report, which came out about this time last year. The research effort was established by congress in the Global Change Research Act of 1990, and was signed into law by President George H.W. Bush.

“This report makes it clear that climate change has arrived far sooner and as a greater threat than we previously thought,” said the East-West Center's Victoria Keener, who served as regional lead for the Hawai`i-Pacific chapter.

The Union of Concerned Scientists said the latest version of the report adds new information in the ways different climate impacts interact. "There is now information available on the interconnectedness of different sectors, and how this can lead to ripple effects," said Rachel Licker, senior climate scientist with the organization. Examples: heat waves are linked to power outages, drought to crop losses, warming oceans to loss of coral reefs.

Keener emphasized the local impacts, and said immediate action is crucial:

"We're already seeing threats in Hawai`i and the Pacific… In the mid-2000s, Hawai`i had the worst drought on record… Here on O‘ahu, we already see road closures during morning rush hour because of flooding, and with sea level rise we’ll see this more and more. Our Pacific Island neighbors on atolls will face sustainability challenges sooner rather than later. The world’s largest insurers recently stated that climate change is creating an ‘uninsurable’ world. Only by acting now can we hope to effectively manage these risks,” Keener said.

The City and County of Honolulu's chief resilience officer Josh Stanbro said one action is particularly critical: " Given the hurricane threats and flooding we’ve already seen, everyone’s new year resolution should be to get off of fossil fuel as fast as we possibly can—it’s the only way to protect our safety and long-term security.”

The islands depend on fresh water, and water supplies are threatened by droughts that reduce groundwater recharge, reduced rainfall that shrinks streamflow, flooding during increasing storm events that spread pollutants, saltwater intrusion along coasts that turns nearshore groundwater brackish and much more.

Zena Grecni, a Yale-educated climate assessment specialist with NOAA at the East-West Center, said "the leadership at the state and county level is critical."

Both Grecni and Keener cited the city Board of Water Supply for its aggressive efforts to protect Honolulu water supplies from the impacts of climate change. Keener said community groups in various places on the Islands are also leaders in addressing climate change.

In a public statement on the climate report, the East-West Center listed some of its key findings:

Dependable and safe water supplies are threatened by rising temperatures, changing rainfall patterns, sea level rise, and increased risk of extreme drought and flooding. Islands are already experiencing saltwater contamination due to sea level rise, which is expected to catastrophically impact food and water security, especially on low-lying atolls.

Sea level rise has accelerated and is now damaging critical infrastructure such as transportation and housing, as well as beaches, ecosystems and cultural sites. In Hawai‘i, the value of all structures and land expected to be flooded by 2100 amounts to more than $19 billion statewide. The Pacific Islands will experience sea level rise higher than the global average, projected to further accelerate strongly after mid-century. Adaptation strategies that are implemented sooner can better prepare communities and infrastructure.

Increasing ocean temperatures and acidification threaten fisheries, coral reefs, and the livelihoods they support. Widespread coral reef bleaching and death are occurring more frequently, and by mid-century these events are projected to occur annually, especially if current trends in greenhouse gas emissions continue. Bleaching and acidification will result in loss of reefs, leading to lower fisheries yields and loss of coastal protection and habitat.

These changes imperil Indigenous peoples’ health and well-being and their relationships with lands, territories, and cultural resources.

Climate change reduces the ability of habitats to support protected plant and animal species. Changes promote the spread of invasive species, threatening biodiversity, important to island people and a source of economic revenue. Some species are expected to become extinct and others to decline to the point of requiring costly protection.

“This Assessment puts out a red alert to island communities like O Ľahu and shows just how vulnerable we are at a local level to climate change,” Stanbro said.

©Jan TenBruggencate 2018

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