Hawaii Will Become First State to Declare a Climate Emergency

Sophie Hirsh - Author

Apr. 29 2021, Updated 2:41 p.m. ET

Hawaii Climate Emergency
Source: Getty Images

There’s a reason environmentalists have taken to calling climate change “the climate crisis” — because it is a crisis. And finally, an American state is acknowledging that. The Hawaii Legislature is about to declare an official climate emergency, making Hawaii the first American state to do so. 

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The Hawaii Climate & Environmental Coalition, which is a group of several dozen Hawaiian organizations, will announce the news in a press conference via Zoom on Thursday, April 29, at 1:30 p.m. local Hawaii time (4:30 p.m. PT, 7:30 p.m. ET): That the Hawaii Legislature has passed Senate Resolution (SCR44), titled Declaring A Climate Emergency. 

The declaration essentially recognizes that climate change is an existential crisis that puts humanity and nature at risk, and asks for people all across the state to work together to mobilize efforts that will facilitate a safe climate. 

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As part of the resolution, Hawaii is pledging to take “statewide action that is rooted in equity, self-determination, culture, tradition, and the belief that people locally and around the world have the right to clean, healthy, and adequate air, water, land, food, education, and shelter,” according to press materials sent to Green Matters.

hawaii climate emergency
Source: Getty Images

A young bodyboarder runs near the remains of trees destroyed by flooding from the former Hurricane Lane at Honoli'i Beach Park on Aug. 26, 2018 in Hilo, Hawaii.

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The Hawaii Senate passed the resolution unanimously, while the Hawaii House was one vote shy of unanimous support.

"I'm very pleased that the Legislature has taken this step by declaring a climate emergency,” Sen. Mike Gabbard, who introduced the resolution in the Senate, said in a statement shared with Green Matters. “We must take strong action to address climate change related challenges, such as sea level rise, coastal erosion, and the protection of our critical infrastructure."

"Hawaii is the first State to join a movement largely led by Cities and Counties to declare a Climate Emergency which reflects the commitment our State legislature continues to make to address the causes and the impacts of Climate Change,” added Rep. Lisa Marten, who introduced the bill in the House.

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“Every day we wait to take action is another day lost. The climate crisis is a clear and present threat for both current and future generations,” Dyson Chee, Advocacy Director for the Hawaii Youth Climate Coalition, said in a statement. “This is why we are thankful for the passage of SCR44, and the recognition by the Hawaii State Legislature that climate change is an emergency that needs to be dealt with accordingly.”

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Though Hawaii is the first state to declare a climate emergency, there are actually 1,943 worldwide jurisdictions — including 144 U.S. municipalities within 24 states — that have already done the same. U.S. cities to declare climate emergencies include New York City, Hoboken, N.J., and Duluth, Minn.; while countries to make similar declarations include Scotland, Wales, the U.K., Ireland, Portugal, Vatican City, Canada, Argentina, and France. 

As a group of islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, Hawaii has already faced some grave effects from the climate crisis. For instance, in March 2021, the state was hit by such heavy floods that Gov. David Ige had to declare a state of emergency. Rising global temperatures and increased atmospheric moisture have exacerbated torrential downpour and mass flooding in coastal areas like Hawaii, and this recent “natural” disaster is just one example of how the climate crisis truly is an emergency for places like Hawaii.

This declaration is certainly sending a strong message to the other 49 states, and we’ll be crossing our fingers that other states quickly follow suit — or even better, that President Biden will declare a nationwide climate emergency

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