Hawaii pledges to become carbon neutral by 2045—the most ambitious goal of any US state

Image: Reuters/Hugh Gentry
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On Tuesday (May 8), Hawaii’s legislature passed two bills setting out the most ambitious climate goal of any US state. House bill 2182 will create a task force that sets out a plan to make the state carbon neutral “no later than 2045.” House bill 1986 will create a carbon-offset program to help the task force meet its target.

One of the bills cites a study that found that Hawaii could suffer $19 billion worth of damage to private property because of a rise in sea levels. When public infrastructure is included, the damage will likely be a lot higher. That is why it isn’t surprising that the US state most vulnerable to climate change is the one most keen to mitigate its impact.

The bills will become law when state governor David Ige signs them, and it’s likely that he will. After Donald Trump withdrew the US from the Paris climate agreement, Hawaii was the first to enact a state law that aligned with the goals set under the global accord. The state has already passed a law committing itself to be powered entirely by renewables by 2045.

“This is the biggest step forward on climate change any state has yet taken,” said Hawaii representative Chris Lee at a press conference after the bills were passed.

To be sure, it’s not clear if the state has thought through how hard a net-zero emissions target is to meet. The bill mentions initiatives such as planting trees and improving soil health as means of sequestering carbon, but not technologies such as carbon capture and storage that are proven to reduce emissions on a larger scale. That’s where the greenhouse-gas sequestration task force will help. It has a 2023 deadline to craft a plan that Hawaii can use to reach carbon neutrality. One of the bills also opens the door for the state to participate in carbon-trading programs, such as the one in California, and to use other market-driven tools to cut emissions.

Before Hawaii’s latest moves, Rhode Island was the state with the most ambitious climate goal: cutting emissions by 85% of 1990 levels by 2050. More importantly, Hawaii can now count itself among the most climate-friendly territories in the world. The Maldives aims to become carbon neutral by 2020, Costa Rica by 2021, Norway by 2030, Iceland by 2040, Sweden by 2045, and New Zealand by 2050. The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has made it clear that more states and countries will need to join this list if the world as a whole is to avoid climate catastrophe.