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Alaska needs to join movement to honor non-binding terms of Paris pact

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  • Updated: June 14
  • Published June 14

Hundreds of environmentalists arrange their bodies to form a message of hope and peace in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France, December 6, 2015. (Benoit Tessier / Reuters file)

Since Alaska has been heating up twice as fast as the Lower 48 and has visible signs of permafrost melting and rapidly shrinking glaciers, President Obama came to Alaska to shine a spotlight on climate change ahead of the Paris negotiations. This was almost two years ago.

Obama's historic and well-received visit presented the Walker-Mallott administration with a ripe opportunity to act on a key recommendation from their own transition reports … leadership in addressing climate change and ocean acidification. One report noted that this issue was viewed as a "success element considered to be agreeable to most Alaskans."

At the time President Obama came to Alaska, 76 percent of Alaskans supported research to expand renewable energy sources while 67 percent supported regulating carbon emissions. Even with this level of popular support, the Walker administration let the President's visit come and go without one mention of engagement on climate change, making Alaska not only the poster state for climate impacts but the poster state for climate inaction.

Odd as it is, now thanks to President's Trump short-sighted action to pull out of the Paris Agreement, Alaska has yet another prime opportunity to assert leadership. I learned in physics that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Well, the reaction to Trump's decision to pull out of the Paris Agreement is greater than just an equal and opposite; it has sparked a call of outrage across a wide political spectrum.

Take for example, what David Gergen, who advised former presidents Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, said on CNN about Trump's action: "Some 70 years ago, the United States entered an international agreement called the Marshall Plan, when we came to the aid of Europe, and it was one of the noblest acts in human history," he said. "Today we walked away from the rest of the world, and it's one of the most shameful acts in our history."

Not wanting to be part of this shameful act, there is now a strong call to action spreading far and wide throughout the United States.  As of Tuesday, there were nine states, 188 mayors, 284 colleges and universities, and thousands of business leaders and investors (representing $6.2 trillion of the U.S. economy according to Business Insider) that have all signed a statement declaring that "we will continue to support climate action to meet the Paris Agreement." The statement further explains, "In the absence of leadership from Washington, states, cities, colleges and universities, businesses and investors, representing a sizable percentage of the U.S. economy will pursue ambitious climate goals, working together to take forceful action and to ensure that the U.S. remains a global leader in reducing emissions."

Concurrent with this "We're Still In" action is the recent formation of the U.S. Climate Alliance, a bipartisan group of states and governors committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions in accord with the non-binding targets set out in the Paris Agreement. Currently, there are 12 governors who have officially signed onto the U.S. Climate Alliance; two of these 12 are Republicans. Additionally there are eleven governors expressing their state's support for keeping to the terms of the Paris Agreement; six of these eleven governors are Republican.

As the poster state for rapid climate change and America's only Arctic state, shouldn't Alaska be onboard too? What would it take to be onboard?

The blueprint for being onboard has already been drafted. In 2008 and 2009 a diverse group of 26 Alaskans appointed by then-Gov. Sarah Palin — including oil and gas representatives — made recommendations for reducing emissions through a number of mitigation strategies.   While the report makes a wide range of recommendations on energy supply and demand, oil and gas, transportation, land use, and waste management, a top recommendation (unanimously supported by the oil and gas subgroup) was to stop the venting and flaring of methane on the North Slope and instead capture and sequester the emissions.

It's time for Alaska to stop gas venting and flaring from wells statewide. Colorado and other states have had such rules in place for years. All Alaska has is a statute to minimize waste of escaping gas (20 AAC 25.235) and it's not enforced. At a minimum, stepping up to enforce this requirement would be one way to show that Alaska is onboard; that Alaska is actively working to reduce emissions too.

It's been eight years since I sat on Gov. Palin's Mitigation Advisory Group and witnessed agreement by the oil and gas subgroup to reduce emissions. As an act of standing with the rest of the world, there is no better time than now to make this straight-forward recommendation finally happen.  This is but one of several low-cost — for industry and state government — mitigation recommendations in the report and there are other ways to sign on with intent.

With its strategic location and abundant renewable energy resources, Alaska is more than capable of becoming part of the solution. Through the U.S. Climate Alliance the political path is being set by Democratic and Republican governors alike. Let's not pass on another prime political opportunity to put some skin in the game. With Exxon and Shell already onboard with the Paris Agreement what's holding Alaska back?  Let's accept our role and our responsibility to reduce emissions in accord with the non-binding targets set out in the Paris Agreement. Let's sign on to the U.S. Climate Alliance.

Kate Troll, a longtime Alaskan, has more than two decades of experience in coastal management, fisheries and energy policy and is a former executive director for United Fishermen of Alaska and the Alaska Conservation Alliance. She served on Gov. Palin's Mitigation Advisory Group for Climate Change. She writes and resides in Douglas.

The views expressed here are the writer's and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary@alaskadispatch.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@alaskadispatch.com. 

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