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North to the Future: Alaska’s Climate Action Leadership

Why this new state strategy is important and what needs to happen next.

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© ShoreZone

Alaska just announced a big step forward in leading the way to addressing the causes and effects of climate change.

In Anchorage this week, the Climate Action for Alaska Leadership Team delivered its recommended Alaska Climate Policy and Action Plan to Governor Walker. The recommendations come after eight months of collaborative effort by the Leadership Team. I am honored to serve as a member of that team, proud of the work we did, and optimistic that the State will take meaningful action based on our drafts

The recommended Policy and Action Plan reflect the diverse geography, age, expertise, life experience, industries, communities, and points of view represented on the Leadership Team. The Leadership Team relied on that diverse expertise, public input, and a collective commitment to helping guide state action. The meetings and teleconferences were remarkable processes of listening, collaborating, and problem solving. I feel lucky to have been a part of that process.

The Leadership Team’s work started from the recognition that climate change is real, it is affecting Alaska more rapidly than other places, and that anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases are the main cause.

In Alaska, we are feeling the effects of climate change on our communities, economies, ecosystems, and on ways of life that have existed for millennia. There is almost no aspect of life in Alaska that isn’t touched by the changes we are experiencing. And, those changes are happening rapidly and unpredictably. It seems as though almost every week there is a news story about rapid or unexpected changes, like marine species being found in places and at times they’ve never been seen before.

Soon,  Arctic sea ice will near its annual minimum. Though scientists don’t expect a record low this year, the trend toward diminishing sea ice continues. The maximum this year was the second lowest on record. Changing ice conditions make it difficult for subsistence hunters and contribute to flooding and erosion. The low winter ice contributed to powerful storms punishing the coast and Northern Bering Sea islands.

It is not too late, however, for meaningful action. We can take steps to adapt to the changes, mitigate the causes, and seize the opportunities that are presented. The recommended Policy and Action Plan are milestones along the way to those goals.

The Leadership Team’s recommendations are broad. They make no effort to avoid the undeniable fact that Alaska is a resource dependent state. Nor, however, do the recommendations shy away from the equally unavoidable truth that a resilient future depends on broadening our economic base to become less dependent on oil development. The recommendations focus on ensuring that communities, economies, and ecosystems are resilient. Doing so requires science, planning, and inclusion.

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© Berett Wilber, Office of the Governor, Alaska

The recommended Policy and Action Plan also dedicate significant attention to the need to understand and plan for changes to our ocean. Alaskans depend on healthy ocean ecosystems for their livelihoods, subsistence, recreation, and many other facets of life. The ocean in Alaska is at significant risk from acidification and from the effects of warming on fish stocks and other marine species. Research and monitoring are needed to better understand these changes and to help us prepare for them.

The Leadership Team recommendations come as the Trump administration continues to seek to roll back national efforts to address climate change. For them, politics and business as usual are more important than science and sustainability. For us, climate change is not a political issue. It is an Alaskan issue, and one we must take action to address. At Ocean Conservancy, we hope that the recommended Policy and Action Plan result in concrete actions, and we stand ready to help in any way we can,

Ultimately, Alaska has the chance to be a world leader in the effort to adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change. The submission of the recommended Policy and Action Plan reflect an important step in that leadership. Ocean Conservancy looks forward to working to implement the recommended actions in Alaska.

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