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Policy & Governance

Hawai‘i’s water experts recognize that climate change has the potential to devastate natural resources and human communities. Climate change adaptation is the process of increasing resilience and reducing vulnerability to risks related to climate change. From a law and policy perspective, adaptation primarily means: (i) ensuring that current policies and procedures account for climate trends, variability, and uncertainty; and (ii) ensuring that, when decision-makers receive new information from climate scientists in the future, they will be able to appropriately act on that information with the existing policies and procedures. The need for adaptive tools is especially sharp in the context of managing vital water resources.

—Excerpted from Water Resources and Climate Change Adaptation in Hawai‘i: Adaptive Tools in the Current Law and Policy Framework

During the 2012 legislative session, the Hawai‘i Legislature passed Act 286, which adds climate change adaptation priority guidelines to the Hawai‘i State Planning Act, Hawai‘i Revised Statutes Chapter 226 (“Chapter 226”). The stated purpose of the climate change adaptation priority guidelines is “to encourage collaboration and cooperation among county, state, and federal agencies, policy makers, businesses, and other community partners to plan for the impacts of climate change and avoid, minimize, or mitigate loss of life, land, and property of future generations.”

The climate change adaptation priority guidelines are intended to prepare the state for climate change impacts on agriculture, conservation lands, coastal and nearshore marine areas, natural and cultural resources, education, energy, higher education, health, historic preservation, water resources, the built environment (e.g., housing, recreation, and transportation), and the economy.

Priority guidelines are part of the statewide planning system, which coordinates and guides all major state and county activities and implements Chapter 226. As a priority guideline, climate change adaptation must now be considered in state and county budgetary, land use, and other decision-making processes. In particular, the state Land Use Commission and Board of Land and Natural Resources must consider whether land use entitlements are consistent with the priority guidelines. In addition, land use planning, coastal permitting, and zoning at the county level must be consistent with county general plans, which must be consistent with Chapter 226. Note, however, that state and county decision-making in some instances may deviate from priority guidelines “without penalty or sanction.”

—Excerpted from the Climate Change Law & Policy in Hawai‘i Briefing Sheet, 2012

Key Findings

In Years 1 and 2, Pacific RISA researchers analyzed Hawai‘i’s law and policy framework to identify ways of enhancing climate adaptation for Hawai‘i’s water resources. They found that, in broad terms, four characteristics define the “adaptive capacity” of such laws and policies:

1)     Forward-looking—focused on crisis avoidance over crisis mitigation;

2)     Flexible—able to adjust to changing needs and conditions;

3)     Integrated—able to address climate-related impacts that cut across political and geographical boundaries; and

4)     Iterative—utilizing a continuous loop of monitoring, feedback, and reevaluation.

Water Resources and Climate Change Adaptation in Hawaiʻi

Water flowing in the Waiāhole Stream is fed by ground water from dike-impounded aquifers in the Ko‘olau Mountains. (Source: Zena Grecni)

Pacific RISA’s 2012 white paper, Water Resources and Climate Change Adaptation in Hawai‘i: Adaptive Tools in the Current Law and Policy Framework, identifies those four characteristics embedded within Hawai‘i’s existing water law and policy regime. Hawai‘i’s legal and policy framework for managing water resources displays those adaptive characteristics at every level, from top-tier constitutional provisions that require the protection and conservation of water and the state’s public trust over all water resources, to a single integrated Hawaiʻi Water Plan through which all water management should be coordinated. The paper also proposes twelve tools to improve climate adaptation for the benefit of Hawai‘i’s water resources.

Climate Change and Fresh Water Roundtable Discussion

In February 2011, the University of Hawai‘i Center for Island Climate Adaptation and Policy, Pacific RISA, and the University of Hawaiʻi Kamakakūokalani Center for Hawaiian Studies convened a round table of natural resource specialists and decision-makers to review current trends affecting water supply and explore approaches to improve resiliency in Hawaiʻi’s freshwater systems. Held in Halau O Haumea, a shared-use auditorium for campus and community groups, the event was second in the ʻO Ke Au I Kāhuli: Pehea Lā Ka Hawaiʻi E Pono

Hawai‘iʻs water, pictured here rushing over Manoa Falls, is held in trust for the benefit of the public, a unique principle forming the foundation of Hawai‘i water law. (Source: Richard Wallsgrove)

Ai series of traveling forums. The title of the series suggests that we are facing a time of great change and asks how all of us in Hawaiʻi can keep life in balance. Over 70 members of the campus and broader community were in attendance.

Indigenous Environmental Knowledge

During summer/fall 2011, an Indigenous Environmental Knowledge Specialist conducted research into place-based strategies for water resource management and adaptation to climate variability. The “IEK” Specialist surveyed local, Pacific regional, national and international policies that recognize indigenous environmental knowledge as a core component of climate change adaptation planning. A working paper developed out of this research outlines (1) definitions of Indigenous Environmental Knowledge and the distinction from other types of knowledge, and (2) policies at all levels that attempt to integrate IEK into local adaptation plans and activities.

Assessment Activities

On July 8th and July 15th, 2011, Pacific RISA and ICAP hosted two stakeholder workshops on Climate Change Impacts on Fresh Water Resources in Hawai‘i. Both workshops ran five hours, included a working lunch, and were held in Burns Hall at the East-West Center in Honolulu, Hawai‘i. Discussions included identifying needs and priorities for research, policymaking, training, and outreach activities to enhance the resiliency of Hawai‘i’s freshwater resources. At both workshops, ICAP Senior Attorney Richard Wallsgrove presented initial findings of the legal and policy study launched in February 2011. Feedback from participants further shaped the recommendations and adaptive tools in ICAP’s recent white paper.

Legislative Briefing on Climate Change

ICAP briefed members of the Hawai‘i state legislature’s House Committee on Energy and Environmental Protection and the Senate Committee on Energy and Environment in a special hearing on climate change at

Senior Attorney Richard Wallsgrove presents research findings and adaptive tools to water resource decision-makers at a workshop held on the island of Maui in July 2012. (Source: UH Center for Island Climate Adaptation and Policy)

the opening of the 2012 Hawai‘i legislative session. In addition to presenting a summary of climate change law and policy in Hawai‘i, ICAP Director Maxine Burkett outlined ICAP’s current research into model tools for adaptive water resource management. The briefing was held at the state Capitol on January 17, 2011. Over 75 members of the public were in attendance. The briefing was filmed and aired live on local television stations.

Outreach Workshops

Two outreach workshops on Oahu in spring 2012 convened 30 water resource decision-makers from: state, county, and federal agencies; businesses; non-profit organizations; the state legislature; and public boards and councils. A third workshop on Maui in July 2012 collected county-specific feedback from decision-makers on the tools presented and support needed to implement adaptive strategies. Each workshop opened with a presentation of the legal analysis and findings, and an overview of the twelve adaptive tools. Where possible, ICAP presented models that have been tested in Hawai‘i or the continental US or elsewhere to illustrate the various planning, regulatory, and market-based strategies.

Lead Researchers

Richard Wallsgrove, JD, Policy Director, Blue Planet Foundation

Maxine Burkett, JD, Associate Professor of Law, William S. Richardson School of Law, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa

2 Comments on “Policy & Governance

  1. Its been six full years since January 2011 when deliberations were held and a White Paper produced.

    What is the present status of the work begun in 2011? Have there been–or are there proposed new initiative contemplated?

    be grateful if you will update me. Mahalo nut.

    • Aloha Dr. Anthony, and thank you for your message. The Pacific RISA law and policy team has since produced a similar white paper evaluating water resources in American Samoa, which was released last year, and both Hawaii and American Samoa have made efforts to incorporate suggestions from those reports in their planning processes. You can find it here. The State of Hawaii also continues to incorporate climate change in all future policy operations, and the Hawaii Interagency Climate Adaptation Committee is a great example of that. Kind regards from Pacific RISA.

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