Opinions

Time for an enduring climate change commission in Alaska

It’s no secret that Alaskans are on the front lines of climate change, and many of us are demonstrating a desire for policies and actions that address its impacts on our national security, economy and health.

Looking at our business climate, our infrastructure, and the needs of urban and rural residents, it is time for the state to create an Alaska Climate Change Commission that outlives the short-term politics of election cycles. Such a commission would provide consistent information and public accountability in facing this complex problem that will affect all Alaskans and all sectors of our economy well into the future.

Communities across the state have been addressing climatic changes for themselves. For example, the Homer City Council created the first municipal climate action plan in 2007. Since then, at least 10 such plans have been made in communities around the state. Even more communities have established local task forces to develop their own climate plans. Some, like Sitka, are committing resources to maintain and update existing climate plans.

Clear evidence of the rapidly changing environment in Alaska, our strategic location in the Arctic, and our history of practical state politics have made climate policy far less of a divisive partisan issue in the 49th state. Recent calls from moderate and conservative Alaskans show support for federal climate policy that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions while reaping economic benefits.

Policymakers are starting to see that planning for climatic changes does not always have to come with a high economic cost. For example, Anchorage’s Climate Action Plan prioritizes actions that result in not only environmental benefits, but also substantial economic and community benefits. By making investments that safeguard Alaska’s environment, cultures, and economy now, we can potentially save our cash-strapped state billions of dollars.

We also have a valuable public university system that can support the needs of a nonpartisan climate change commission using nearly a century of data and observations. In fact, the Center for Arctic Policy Studies — part of UAF’s International Arctic Research Center — was established with the mission of linking UAF research with decision-makers, enabling them to develop well-informed policies for our communities.

When it comes to cutting-edge research, the University of Alaska offers the state an intellectual as well as monetary return on its dollar. In fact, every dollar of state support for research at the University of Alaska Fairbanks brings in $6 of external funding. More importantly, it generates new knowledge that can improve Alaskans’ safety, infrastructure, and quality of life.

The Alaska “do-it-yourself” mentality can serve us well. Tackling climate change ourselves in-state, where we have the most knowledge of what is happening, can be easier, faster, and more effective than trying to steer the federal government. And while a permanent Climate Change Commission would be new for us, state-level climate policy in Alaska has a thirty-year history, including former Gov. Sarah Palin’s Alaska Climate Change Sub-Cabinet and former Gov. Bill Walker’s “Climate Change Action Plan Recommendations to the Governor” report. As governors and Legislatures have come and gone, so has consistent climate policy — yet the problem remains and grows more urgent and more expensive the longer we wait. Together, we can change that.

Alaska lawmakers are able to end the partisan approach to climate change policy by creating an enduring climate change commission with public meetings and records preserved in perpetuity. In this way, scientific information, Indigenous knowledge, and the expertise of diverse commission members can be maintained across administrations. We note the importance of incorporating Indigenous knowledge and leadership, as predominately Alaska Native communities are at the forefront of climate change impacts and have developed innovative responses. Alaska has nonpartisan boards and commissions for other issues — so why not to address the challenges of our changing climate?

When we consider the future, we can imagine how a state climate change commission with diverse expertise, the ability to escape short-term electoral pressures, and access to resources from the UA system could begin to meet Alaska’s climate change challenges. It is time for an Alaska Climate Change Commission, and we have what we need to make it a success.

Amy Lauren Lovecraft lives in Fairbanks. She serves as director of the Center for Arctic Policy Studies, part of the International Arctic Research Center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, is a professor of political science, and has served as University of Alaska faculty since 2001.

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