FAIRBANKS — Gov. Bill Walker’s Climate Action Leadership Team delivered a set of recommendations to the Walker administration Wednesday in an attempt to mitigate the visible effects of climate change in Alaska.
In October 2017, Walker signed Administrative Order 289, acknowledging the effects of climate change in Alaska and creating the Alaska Climate Change Strategy and Alaska Climate Action Leadership Team to “advise the governor on critical and timely actions to address climate change challenges that will safeguard now and for future generations.”
“As the northernmost state, Alaska is America’s Arctic, and our state’s communities face accelerating erosion, rising sea levels, ocean acidification, rapidly thawing permafrost and changing intensity in wildland fires,” the order reads.
Walker tasked the leadership team with digging into the state’s experience with climate change and preparing recommendations that focus on mitigation, adaptation, research and response.
Since October, the team has met more than 20 times, looked at more than 300 pages of public comments, hosted eight listening sessions, formed two technical advisory panels and hosted 25 young Alaskans for a Young Leaders’ Dialogue on Climate Change.
On Wednesday, the team provided the Walker administration with a 40-page recommended action plan and a 12-page plan for recommended policy.
These included expanding the current State Energy Program to include state-owned buildings of 5,000 feet and larger and retrofit 25 percent of those buildings to be more energy efficient by 2025, beginning with the least efficient; take a look at the Alaska Marine highway examining how feasible it would be to use liquefied natural gas to power ferries; develop a voluntary reporting program to further enhance the Alaska Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory and work to further education Alaskans on sources and trends of said gases; and consult with the Alaska Energy Authority on goals for renewable energy.
The plans also outlines several ways to assist coastal communities dealing with adverse effects of climate change. This included a plan to advance construction of an evacuation road for the Native village of Kivalina; advance development of the Ear Mountain Road in Shishmaref; work to identify revenue resources for building a protective berm and evacuation road for Shaktoolik; assist the village of Newtok in developing a move-in plan for the relocation community of Metarvik; continue assisting the Department of Natural Resources in mapping at-risk communities with the location of power infrastructure and water and sewer infrastructure; and work with the state’s congressional delegation to secure federal funds to assist threatened coastal communities.
Walker said understanding climate change is vital for moving forward as a state.
“Alaska is ground zero for climate change. While that poses serious challenges, it also makes us uniquely positioned to understand climate issues, develop innovative responses and share them with others,” Walker said in a statement. “Working toward increased energy affordability and healthy, resilient communities that can prosper as our environment changes is a critical responsibility of any Alaskan government.”
Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott chairs the Climate Action Leadership Team.
“The leadership team’s work is grounded in a vision for a healthy and sustainable Alaska for current and future generations,” Mallott said in a statement. “The team’s recommendations are a step along a journey that will continue to evolve. Our goals — the same goals of any good government — are to support resilience communities, healthy ecosystems and continued economic opportunity in Alaska.”
After looking over the full list of recommendations, Walker assembled a five-page plan for early action items the state should look into in the immediate future.
The early actions fall into four main categories: lowering emissions and energy costs; helping Alaska transition to a more energy-efficient economy; addressing villages at risk from erosion, flooding and permafrost degradation; and assessing climate effects on Alaska’s fisheries.
This plan will include work by the Alaska Energy Authority, Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development, Department of Environmental Conservation, Department of Fish and Game, Department of Transportation and Public Facilities Climate Cabinet and the University of Alaska system.
DEC Commissioner Larry Hartig said the recommendations serve as a valuable stepping stone for further action.
“The collaborative efforts of the Cabinet Climate in developing early actions will be a great springboard to our next steps in reviewing the leadership team’s recommendations and advancing the State’s efforts,” Hartig said. “The Department of Environmental Conservation is committed to working with communities and industry to build upon our current data on greenhouse gas emissions to help Alaskans understand our carbon footprint.”
Janet Reiser, executive director of AEA, noted energy industries are facing increased challenges due to climate change.
“Safe, reliable and affordable energy remains critically important for the day to day well-being of Alaska’s families, businesses and communities. In both rural and urban areas, this is increasingly more challenging in the face of climate change,” Reiser said.
DOT Commissioner Marc Luiken identified some efforts the department has already made to mitigate energy expenditures but said there is certainly more to be done.
“The DOT&PF Energy Office has completed energy savings performance projects in 69 state-owned facilities, with a cumulative annual cost savings greater than $3.3 million,” Luiken said. “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.”
Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Sam Cotten said the University of Alaska holds some of the best climate scientists to address the continuing issue.
“Our early action, led by the department and the University of Alaska, will bring the best scientists together for the first time ever to examine in detail, the hard science surrounding climate change and its current and future effect on Alaska’s ocean resources,” Cotten said. “With this information, the department can continue to best protect, maintain and improve the resource and help Alaska communities and families prepare for and adapt to a changing environment and the profound impacts that brings.”
Former Fairbanks North Star Borough Mayor Luke Hopkins represents Fairbanks on the team.
The full list of policy and action recommendations can be found at bit.ly/2NIpyDn.
Contact staff writer Erin McGroarty at 459-7544. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMPolitics.