Alaska Gov. Walker announces Paris Agreement-esque plan for climate change

Gov. Bill Walker announces his administrative order on climate change at a news conference on Oct. 31, 2017.

Gov. Bill Walker signed an administrative order today to tackle climate change in Alaska.

The order creates the “Climate Action for Alaska Leadership Team,” which will include 15 public members along with officials from state government. The group will be tasked with producing a report by Sept. 1, 2018 on proposals for mitigating carbon emissions and adapting to the changing environment among other goals.

The governor said it’s critical for the state to launch its own efforts to combat climate change because it’s already feeling the impacts first-hand with rising sea levels and shifting coastlines. Several groups approached Walker in hopes of cobbling together a nationwide response in the wake of President Donald Trump’s announcement of the withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement, but Walker said he ultimately favored an Alaska-grown response.

“We’re going to do our own thing,” he said. “We’re going to follow the goals of the Paris accord, but we’re going to do them on our time frame and our way. … I don’t think anyone is more knowledgeable on the Arctic than Alaskans.”

Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott will serve as the team’s chair, and the state will seek members of the public with applications opening later today and running through Nov. 14. He said the team will be appointed within “a very few months.”

“Most importantly, we’re reaching out to Alaskans to bring the best of Alaskan leadership into this effort,” he said.

With competing interests between the development of fossil fuels and climate change goals, Walker said he doesn’t plan any policy changes on resource development. He said, however, that some of the policies, particularly around mitigation of the impacts of climate change, could be funded with resource income.

“How do you balance the two? I said, well, we have to balance the two. That’s just the way it has to be in Alaska,” he said. “We will continue to responsibly develop our non-renewable resources and use that as somewhat the bridge funding to be able to do what we need to do as a result of climate change in Alaska. They’re not incompatible in anyway and one is necessary for the other.”

Walker also added that he’s “not confident that federal funding will come through for village relocation.”

State steps on climate

Walker’s climate change policies have long been in the works. At his State of the State address earlier this year, he said Alaska is already feeling the impacts of climate change, but recognized the challenge of balancing Alaska’s competing interests.

“My Administration is developing a framework to engage Alaskans in this effort to protect our way of life,” he said. “We will seek out local and traditional knowledge. We will seek out industry input. We will seek to involve every sector to help us meet this challenge.”

Trump announced he’d be withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement, an international plan for countries to voluntarily reduce emissions in order to reduce the global average temperature to near pre-industrialization temperatures, earlier this year. The withdrawal spurred many cities and states into action to adopt the goals of the Paris agreement to reduce carbon emissions and to promote renewable energy. A new report by the United Nations Environment Program says the gap between current trends and the Paris Climate Agreement’s goal is huge (and it’s not just because of Trump’s withdrawal).

Earlier this year Walker also appointed Nikoosh Carlo, who’s Alaska Native and from Fairbanks and Tanana, to a newly created position of senior climate adviser. She previously worked as the director of the Alaska Arctic Policy Commission and with the U.S. State Department’s Arctic Council delegation.

Local action on climate

Three of Alaska’s biggest cities took steps to commit or recommit to taking action on climate change in wake of president’s withdrawal from the accord.

Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz and Fairbanks North Star Borough Mayor Karl Kassel signed onto Climate Mayors, a coalition of of 382 mayors who’ve signed onto a statement seeking to uphold the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement.

The Juneau Assembly voted 6-3 in August to approve its own climate change resolution that reaffirmed support for a 2011 Juneau Climate Action and Implementation Plan, though the Juneau Empire reported it didn’t include any direct mention of the Paris Climate Agreement or President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from it.

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