[an error occurred while processing this directive] [an error occurred while processing this directive]

Adaptation Policy Helps Prepare Hawaii for the Future

“This new policy means that county and state officials considering any project or plan—a setback variance, capital improvements, road construction, or others—must consider the adaptation policy as part of those plans.”

Jesse Souki,
State of Hawaii Office of Planning

The efforts of many partners to strengthen Hawaii’s climate change preparedness were rewarded on July 9, 2012, when Governor Neil Abercrombie signed into law Act 286, thereby incorporating a climate change adaptation policy into the statewide planning system.

“This new policy means that county and state officials considering any project or plan—a setback variance, capital improvements, road construction, or others—must consider the adaptation policy as part of those plans,” says Jesse Souki, the director for the State of Hawaii Office of Planning.

The adaptation policy specifies that county or state plans must address potential climate change impacts to agriculture, conservation lands, coastal and nearshore areas, natural and cultural resources, energy, the economy, and many other sectors.

Any plans must pay particular attention to the policy’s priority guidelines. These include educating the community about climate change and adaptation considerations, encouraging community stewardship, investing in monitoring and research, considering traditional knowledge, encouraging landscape preservation and restoration, exploring adaptation strategies, promoting resilience, fostering collaboration among jurisdictions, adopting effective new approaches, and integrating the adaptation policy into planning and managing of the natural and built environments.

The Hawaii Coastal Zone Management (CZM) Program led the development of the policy’s priority guidelines, which are expected to streamline planning processes in a way that helps both public and private sectors work more collaboratively and effectively on adaptation-related issues.


The idea of devising a statewide climate change adaptation policy was first discussed in 2007 by the Ocean Resources Management Plan (ORMP) working group, which is composed of more than 20 representatives from local, state, and federal entities involved in coast- and ocean-related issues.

That year, the governor’s office had signed into law the Global Warming Solutions Act, which aimed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2020. “As we updated the ORMP, we were feeling good about Hawaii’s climate change mitigation efforts—but no amount of mitigation is going to completely prepare Hawaii for some of the challenges ahead. The missing piece was adaptation,” says Souki.

Anticipated impacts in the Pacific Islands region have been well-researched and documented by organizations that include the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Likely impacts include higher sea levels, greater risks to agriculture and built infrastructure, stronger coastal storms, and threats to fisheries, tourism, and ocean resources from warmer and more acidic waters.

The ORMP working group, partnering with the University of Hawaii Sea Grant’s Center for Island Climate Adaptation and Policy, produced a report in August 2009, A Framework for Climate Change Adaptation in Hawaii. It outlined for the State of Hawaii a step-by-step process for assembling a cross-sector adaptation team, assessing risks, defining adaptation priorities, and developing a proposed adaptation policy.


Adaptation efforts took another leap forward in August 2011, when 60 participants attended a two-day workshop in Honolulu to create a collective adaptation vision and draft language for the adaptation policy. The workshop was sponsored by Hawaii CZM, NOAA, and the Pacific Islands Silver Jackets Initiative, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers effort to reduce flood risks.

“Diversity across agencies, organizations, nonprofits, institutions, and the private sector was very important to us at the workshop—and we knew it would help us get buy-in on the eventual adaptation policy,” says Souki.

The views of workshop participants ranged widely, from climate change skeptics to those who were already making decisions based on adaptation concerns. Workshop mediators and facilitators helped keep discussion on track when differences over the adaptation vision and policy language grew heated.

“One person would say, ‘We need a line in the sand and not to build beyond it,’ and another would say, ‘Don’t tread on me, leave my property rights alone.’ As public servants we cannot take positions, so our aim was to try to mediate in a way that could get the group to reach consensus. And ultimately that’s what happened,” notes Leo Asuncion, the planning program manager for Hawaii CZM.

Following the workshop, the Office of Planning posted the draft policy on its Facebook page and Twitter feed, a move that increased buy-in from the larger Hawaii community before passage of the law.


Plans are underway to grow the reach and effectiveness of the policy. Funding provided through NOAA’s Coastal Resilience Networks will enable the Office of Planning and University of Hawaii to increase outreach to communities, elected officials, planners, and other groups through meetings and social media.

“We’re even reaching beyond areas identified in our workshop to places that extend beyond land mass,” says Asuncion, noting that ocean-use planning decisions will have important implications for marine species, coral reefs, and Hawaii’s adaptation future. “We’re starting to discuss the state’s adaptation policy with the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which is considering wind-energy leasing sites off Hawaii’s coast. Our hope is to coordinate more with them before leasing sites are finalized.”


To read Hawaii’s climate change adaptation policy, view www.capitol.hawaii.gov/session2012/bills/GM1403_.PDF. For more information, contact Jesse Souki at (808) 587-2846 or jesse.k.souki@dbedt.hawaii.gov.

Techniques Move Participants to Action

Two different facilitator-led processes at an August 2011 workshop helped attendees reach consensus on draft language for Hawaii’s climate change adaptation policy.

Facilitators on the first day laid out four potential adaptation futures and assigned participants to pretend living in those futures and making decisions. “This helped us work through the repercussions of our decisions and seek both public and private approaches,” says Cindy Barger, the Honolulu District watershed program manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The corps supported the workshop through its Pacific Islands Silver Jackets Initiative.

On the second day, with the group’s vision and mission statement serving as a skeleton of the climate adaptation policy, participants used a visioning process to define their values, objectives, and action plans.

“We gained momentum using these two different techniques, and by the second day we were moved to action,” says Barger. “The corps in Hawaii is developing engineering considerations for public infrastructure in the sea level rise-inundation zone—and that project is a direct outgrowth of our workshop objectives.”

View Issue ContentsGo to Next Article
Subscribe to MagazineView Other Issues

[an error occurred while processing this directive]