JUNEAU, Alaska (CN) – Calling Alaska “ground zero for the impacts of climate change,” Gov. Bill Walker on Tuesday signed a bill that lays the groundwork for the state’s response to climate change.
Administrative Order 289 creates the Alaska Climate Change Strategy and Climate Action for Alaska Leadership Team, a flexible and long-lasting framework for Alaskans to build a strategic response to climate change informed by the best available science, integration of indigenous and local knowledge, and consideration of Alaska’s economic interests. The order also calls for state agencies to review their previous work on climate change, and identify immediate actions they can take.
“Alaskans should be at the forefront of innovation and response,” Walker said. “In addition to developing solutions that ensure community and economic resilience while mitigating environmental harm, we must also engage with national and international partners to strengthen Alaska’s voice in global decision-making.”
Walker acknowledged Alaska is 70 percent dependent on a hydrocarbon economy, and that some will wonder how the state can reconcile that while addressing climate change.
“They are not incompatible. Actually, one is necessary for the other,” Walker said.
The state will continue to responsibly develop its nonrenewable resources and use generated dollars as bridge funding, the governor said.
“We will support the goals of the Paris [climate] agreement while ensuring that Alaskan communities and businesses have the resources and opportunity to benefit from the global response to climate change,” he said.
Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott will chair the 15-member Climate Action Leadership Team, which will be appointed by the Walker later this year. The group will include members from across the state who will build on past research and policy to create new policies, according to Mallott.
During the press conference, Mallott announced a 14-day window for applications from Alaskans who want to join the team.
“We are reaching out to Alaskans to bring the best of Alaskan leadership into this effort,” Mallott said.
The team will provide preliminary recommendations and progress reports on a quarterly basis, before delivering an initial recommended plan of action to the governor by Sept. 1, 2018. The plan will outline achievable actions in the four focus areas of mitigation, adaptation, research and response.
“Climate change will affect all Alaskans,” Mallott said. “Addressing this bipartisan issue is our responsibility as global citizens, and ensures that we leave for future generations all the promise and potential that Alaska has to offer.”
The administrative order release comes on the heels of a lawsuit filed last week by a group of Alaskan young people against the state and Walker, after a state agency denied their petition to stop extracting oil and gas and start considering a pollution-free planet as a civil right.
Sixteen Alaskan youth say the state’s continued reliance on “revenue that fossil fuel extraction produces” infringes their constitutional rights, according to the lawsuit filed in the Third Judicial District in Anchorage on Oct. 27.
Asked whether the timing of the order had any relation to this lawsuit, Walker’s deputy press secretary Jonathan Taylor said “no.”
“While I can’t comment on active litigation, this climate change strategy has been in the works for a quite a while,” Taylor said in an email. “It does not directly relate in any way to the lawsuit from Our Children’s Trust.”