Maui County Climate Plan Would Slash Greenhouse Gas Emissions And Boost Disaster Preparedness

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The draft outline warns of disruptions and damage caused by more frequent extreme weather events like wildfires, landslides and flooding.

Honolulu Civil Beat, Dec. 23, 2022


Maui County has released a draft of its bold plan to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions and respond to the effects of climate change.

The 267-page Climate Action & Resiliency Plan details dozens of ways the county can act in partnership with other organizations like Hawaiian Electric, renewable energy developers, state energy regulators and local nonprofits and businesses to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 76% community-wide by 2050.

“Even as a small part of the global problem, actions taken by the County of Maui can have a huge impact in inspiring change around the world,” the draft plan says.

The county’s draft plan acknowledges that Native Hawaiian communities have centered around resiliency long before the idea of sustainability was introduced in western discourse. Marina Riker/Civil Beat/2022


The plan also outlines ways the county can make Maui, Molokai and Lanai more resilient, from funneling more dollars toward training the next generation of environmental stewards to boosting emergency radio infrastructure and establishing a plan to ensure supply of food and essential goods if there are disruptions in the supply chain.

The draft was put together over the last 17 months through a process that involved working with more than 70 “community advisors,” holding dozens of public events and surveying residents, 800 of whom responded. Now, the mayor is asking citizens for input on the plan, which must be approved by the County Council before it is enacted.

“It’s an ambitious yet vital plan, because the impacts of climate change are becoming more evident in the severity and frequency of natural disasters affecting Hawaii,” Mayor Michael Victorino said in a news release.

Flash flooding has become an increasing threat in Maui County in recent years. Courtesy of Maui County


The release of the draft came days before torrential downpours and raging winds slammed Maui County. Landslides and flooding closed a number of roadways. High winds sent trees crashing onto utility lines, leaving thousands of residents without electricity and many others without internet and phone service. After flooding and storm debris wreaked havoc on parts of the water system, the local government asked residents to temporarily conserve water.

But it’s not just storms that are projected to hit Maui County harder in the future. In the last year residents have dealt with a massive swell that surged onto roadways, extreme drought that threatened ranches and farms and a November wildfire that scorched more than 2,000 acres in West Maui.

The plan also details how the local government and community can become stronger — and more equitable — through investments focused on environmental justice and building an economy that shifts the dependence on outside imports. The document acknowledges that “resiliency has been an integral part of Native Hawaiian culture — long before the concept of ‘sustainability’ was introduced in popular Western discourse.”

Twenty-five “climate mitigation strategies” and 22 “resilience strategies” are included in the draft and among the most ambitious goals, it would put Maui County on a path toward 100% clean ground transportation by 2035 and clean energy — and net negative carbon emissions — by 2045.

The plan focuses on drastically boosting clean energy and transportation. Nathan Eagle/Civil Beat/2022


“No one’s saying that it’s perfect, but I think it’s really important to get started,” said council member Keani Rawlins-Fernandez. “We can always improve upon it.”

The council member from Molokai served on the 20-person advisory council that assisted the county staff who put the plan together.

Throughout the course of the planning process, county staff held meetings for remote communities like East Maui and Molokai. The document recognizes that certain communities are more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change — including rural, remote, coastal and Indigenous populations — and seeks to elevate those voices.

The East Maui coastline. Brittany Lyte/Civil Beat/2021


“As these (weather) events get more frequent and more intense, there’s just a greater possibility of us getting cut off,” said Scott Crawford, the executive director of Kipahulu Ohana, a nonprofit in East Maui dedicated to community building and reviving, restoring and sharing the practices of traditional Native Hawaiian culture.

Crawford also served on the council that steered the draft plan. He said he tried to bring forward the East Maui perspective when discussing how the county and its agencies should respond and prepare for the unfolding climate crisis. At the time of the interview with Civil Beat on Tuesday afternoon, he said the electricity, internet — and even his landline — was still knocked out at his East Maui home.

“It’s not too late, but there’s no time to waste,” he said about enacting the plan. The key is what happens next.

“There’s lots of plans that get made and get put on the shelf and nothing ever happens,” said Crawford. “The important thing is that we actually follow through on this … that we put the plan into action.”

Read the draft plan here.