Opinions

The road to U.S. climate goals runs through Alaska

President Joe Biden announced sweeping new climate commitments at his Global Leaders Summit last month. But what do emissions cuts of 50% by 2030 mean to Alaskans? His plan has billions in investments to offer Alaska that would address our state’s greatest challenges, from jobs to our changing landscapes. There are few places on Earth where impacts from climate change are felt more than here in Alaska. Salmon are shrinking, wildfires are increasing, our rainforest is experiencing droughts and communities are washing into the sea. Despite our vulnerability, Alaska’s vast landscapes still provide critical climate refuge to ecosystems, plants and animal life and our communities.

At the same time, Alaska’s resource extraction contributes to climate change and is embedded in our economic and political systems. Alaska also has a senator who often stands as the critical vote on national issues. Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s vote on Biden’s climate agenda, including the American Jobs Plan infrastructure package, could be decisive. The challenges and contradictions of climate change are front and center here in Alaska, and the road to Biden’s climate commitments runs straight through our home state.

During a panel discussion last month we laid out Biden’s climate commitments, how we can get to 50% reductions by 2030 and what that would mean for Alaska. Among the highlights of new U.S. commitments are national pledges to go 100% carbon-free in the electricity sector by 2035, electrification of transportation infrastructure — including investments that Alaska’s federal delegation might welcome — and commitments to invest in forest protection — particularly on public land. In fact, in 2019, 12% of total U.S greenhouse gas emissions were offset by the sequestration from carbon sinks like forests, and Alaska’s Tongass National Forest is second to none, sequestering nearly half of all the carbon stored by the entire national forest system. Protecting forests bolsters the fishing and tourism industries and creates jobs. Electrifying our transportation infrastructure creates jobs and could breath life back into the ferry system and the Alaska Railroad. Going to 100% renewable electric grids will bring down the cost of utilities around Alaska and creates jobs.

Jobs are not the only benefits President Biden’s climate commitments will bring; they’ll also protect fish and wildlife habitat, bring cleaner air and healthier communities, and help to avoid the worst of climate chaos. But it can’t be overstated that climate action is jobs action. Biden’s American Jobs Plan is simultaneously the most ambitious climate legislation in U.S. history AND the most ambitious economic plan since the New Deal.

Alaska desperately needs these investments. A quarter of Alaskans have no access to broadband internet whatsoever, even fewer can afford it where it is available. Our rural communities face the highest utility costs in the nation. Our ways of life, the very food that feeds us, is being disrupted by climate change. Too many of us are out of work. Biden’s climate and jobs agenda would address all these challenges in one fell swoop.

Good jobs can be created in green energy, fishing, mariculture, the care economy and more. As we lower barriers like high energy costs and access to broadband, we’ll see opportunities open up for communities and entrepreneurs to realize their ambitions. But we have to take our head out of the sand first, acknowledge the coming energy transition and look ahead. President Biden has set the goal post, 50% emission reductions by 2030, that will bring Alaska the economic and climate relief we need. Now we need Alaskan visionaries to blaze the trail to that goal.

Kay Brown is a former Alaska state legislator and Director of Oil and Gas, and now the Arctic Policy Director for Pacific Environment.

Jennifer Andrulli is Yupik with ancestral ties to Nelson Island, and the Director of Alaskans Take A Stand.

Will Hackman has more than a decade of experience in political campaigning, environmental conservation, and climate advocacy and is a former Bering Sea commercial crab fisherman and Cook Inlet commercial salmon fisherman.

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