We Are Still In: Hawaiʻi Stands By Paris Agreement at International Climate Talks

Jan 2, 2019

World leaders from more than 180 countries met in Katowice, Poland in December to talk about reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to climate change. President and host of this year's international climate negotiations is Poland Secretary of State Michał Kurtyka, pictured here.
Credit United Nations

In the New Year, adapting to climate change remains one of the biggest challenges around the world. That’s also true here in Hawaiʻi—which has made a commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as set forth in the 2015 Paris Agreement. HPR’s Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi has this story.

A Hawaiʻi delegation recently returned from the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Poland. It included Anu Hittle, the coordinator for the Hawaiʻi Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation Commission.

Anu Hittle (second from right) is pictured here at the United Nations climate talks in Poland with representatives from other states committed to the 2015 Paris Agreement.
Credit Department of Land and Natural Resources

“It was really important for us to be there because we are trying to show that we are still in the Paris Agreement,” says Hittle.

Despite President Trump’s announcement to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement, Hawaiʻi and 16 other states committed to abide it. Others at the conference were eager to discuss the differences in attitude between the federal government and the states who belong to the U.S. Climate Alliance.

“They were concerned about...what are the states doing? What is the U.S. government doing? How do we feel about that? Where do we think it’s going?” says Hittle, “They really wanna know that we are in, and they’re really relieved that we are in.”

University of Oslo Professor Christina Voigt spent the Fall 2018 semester as a visiting scholar at the University of Hawai'i William S. Richardson School of Law. She is the main legal adviser and lead negotiator for Norway in international climate talks.
Credit Ku'uwehi Hiraishi

This round of UN climate negotiations focused heavily on implementation of the Paris Agreement, something UH visiting scholar and law professor Christina Voigt knows quite a bit about.

“It’s a tiresome process. It takes a very long time for countries to agree,” says Voigt, ”It took more than two and a half decades to get where we are right now.”

This is Voigt’s tenth UN climate conference. She’s the lead negotiator for Norway in international climate talks, and this year she helped oversee the committee responsible for producing the rule book.

A large chunk of that rule book sets standards for self-reporting. The only legal obligation for parties to the Paris Agreement is to submit a progress report by the year 2020.

“One element that didn’t make it into the final rule book, and that’s the rules for the carbon market, for emissions trading, for offsetting of emission allowances,” says Voigt, “These are very technical, very specific rules, which hadn’t matured to a level where they could be included in the rule book.”

The main stage at the 24th Conference of the Parties (COP24) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, also known as the Climate Change Conference.
Credit United Nations/Facebook

You also won’t find any non-compliance penalties or sanctions.

“It’s really all about transparency and eventually it’s about naming and shaming,” says Voigt, “It was very clear in the Paris Agreement itself, the compliance committee would be non-punitive, non-adversarial.”

Still, Voigt is hopeful.

“The passage of the rulebook is a very important juncture because it means that the focus and the work has been done at the international level,” says Voigt, “And has to be moved now to implementation of climate action by governments, by cities, by states.”

Even as President Trump pulls away from the Paris Agreement, Hittle says Hawaiʻi can take a leadership role in climate change.