Status Update: Climate Action Plan, City and County of Honolulu Office of Climate Change, Sustainability & Resiliency

Office of Climate Change, Sustainability & Resiliency
City and County of Honolulu
May 2019

As part of the City and County of Honolulu’s efforts to prepare for and reduce the impacts of climate change, the Office of Climate Change, Sustainability and Resiliency (Resilience Office) is developing a climate action plan, or CAP. 

With recent reports from the United Nations International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and US Federal Government’s Fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA4) telling us that we have as little as 12 years to significantly reduce carbon pollution before hitting a tipping point with inevitably catastrophic consequences, we know we need to act in ways both large and small. A CAP outlines a specific strategy or series of policies, programs, and projects to eliminate the root cause of global warming and climate change – carbon pollution, a.k.a., greenhouse gases (GHGs) such as carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), and Ozone (O3) among others. What this means in practice, is reducing fossil fuel usage and the resulting GHG emissions, from our energy sector – both our built environment and our transportation sector – as well as our consumption and waste-stream. 

A CAP details a specific set of recommended actions that a community must take to reduce GHG emissions over a period of several years. The three main components of a CAP are: 1) a local inventory of current annual GHG emissions (GHG Inventory); 2) a series of targeted emission reduction goals over time—usually stretching out to 2050; and 3) a comprehensive list of actions that will stop carbon pollution to achieve those emission reduction targets. Carbon pollution reduction strategies often include increasing renewable energy generation (e.g., solar PV or wind); energy efficiency measures in commercial and residential buildings; moving away from fossil fuels towards electrified transportation (e.g., electric vehicles, battery electric buses, and rail); and creating more walkable, bikeable communities. The goal of a CAP is to eventually eliminate the use of fossil fuels -- particularly oil and coal as soon as possible -- for electricity generation and transportation.

Why is the City doing a Climate Action Plan?

As an island community, we are already witnessing firsthand the impacts of climate change around us, and negative impacts will increase without a reduction in fossil-fuel emissions. More frequent and larger hurricanes, flooding, a drop in trade wind days, and coastal erosion/beach loss are all the direct result of global warming. The CAP represents our City’s determination to protect our island way-of-life and well-being for ourselves and future generations. A CAP also helps meet the world’s pledge to the Paris Agreement on climate change, and will also result in long-term economic benefits as we currently export nearly $5 billion each year to pay for imported fossil fuel. O’ahu is already becoming an innovation hub for renewable energy, electrification of transportation, and energy storage technology, and decarbonizing our economy rapidly will not only protect us against risk, but drive economic growth and job creation for the 21st century. 

Climate Action Planning is a collaborative process to establish each individual community’s priorities for its own CAP, and involves bringing together residents, experts, and other community stakeholders to collectively map out the measures and actions to decarbonize our local economy and society. The Resilience Office is coordinating this effort and launched the community CAP process in July 2018. The CAP will only be as strong as the community understanding of the risk of climate change, and the will to change policies and practices to decarbonize our economy quickly for long-term security. Between August 2018 and January 2019, the Resilience Office partnered with councilmembers and universities around Oʻahu, hosting a series of 11 public meetings to gather community input on potential GHG reduction strategies that are being considered for inclusion in Oʻahu’s forthcoming CAP.

Oʻahu’s First Community Wide GHG Inventory

The City completed and released its very first GHG inventory earlier this year, and we’ve moved into the target-setting and strategy development phase. The GHG Inventory tells us where our biggest opportunities for carbon reduction are, and will allow us to chart an optimal pathway to achieve 100% carbon neutrality by 2045 in line with the State’s.

Not surprisingly, our largest sources of emissions come from building electricity use in the residential, commercial, and industrial sectors as well as on-road transportation. Many of the actions needed to reduce GHG from these sectors are already underway. These include developing programs to reduce energy usage through energy service performance contracting; implementing building energy benchmarking to shed light on energy consumption and potential savings opportunities; and installing solar PV and energy storage systems to generate clean and renewable energy. The City is intervening in the utility regulatory process to ensure that Hawaiian Electric’s incentives, plans, and investments are aligned with our renewable energy, carbon mitigation, and other public policy priorities. In the ground transportation sector, the City is acting upon the Mayor’s commitment to achieve 100% renewable ground transportation on Oʻahu by 2045 and replace the entire City fleet by 2035 with renewable sources of fuel. We piloted electric buses to get ready for needed fleet replacement, and are beginning implementation of a Carbon-Free Corridor to coincide with with the Honolulu rail system build out. The CAP will attach specific carbon reduction and economic cost-benefit calculations with these policies and identify other strategies.

Community Engagement and Dialog

For the 11 community meetings, the Resilience Office worked closely with our 100 Resilient Cities Strategy Partner AECOM to develop a climate action planning game. Using the City’s 2015 GHG Inventory and city-level data for residential, commercial and industrial, and transportation sectors as a starting point, the game is designed to identify GHG reduction goals and strategies for each sector across three target years: 2025, 2035, and 2045. (Note: the GHG Inventory was updated to 2016 shortly after this first round of community meetings).

The game illustrates two alternative pathways that Oʻahu might take with respect to carbon mitigation: a business as usual pathway, in which Oʻahu’s carbon emissions continue to increase between now and 2045 (the ascending, black dotted line), and a pathway to 100% carbon neutrality (the descending, green dotted line). 

Climate Action Planning Gameboard

At the meeting, community participants worked in groups of 5 to 10 to play the game along with a facilitator from the Resilience Office. They were asked to select GHG reduction strategies for each target year to achieve a particular target under various economic and technical constraints. We are integrating the feedback from this game into our planning, but just as important, the CAP game builds awareness and develops a vehicle for two-way dialog among community members.

Community members participate in Climate Action Planning Community Meetings islandwide. Photo credits: Resilience Office

Community-driven GHG Reduction Strategies

The graph above summarizes and orders mitigation strategies by most to least popular for communities around the island of Oʻahu. These results were compiled from island-wide Climate Action Plan district meetings the Office of Climate Change, Sustainability and Resiliency co-hosted with district councilmembers. The top three mitigation strategies include: Rooftop Solar, Building Energy Efficiency and Walk & Bike measures.

Oʻahu’s CAP and Resilience Strategy

The City is also developing a comprehensive “Resilience Strategy” for the island of Oʻahu that addresses four major areas that residents prioritized over the past year: 1) Long-term affordability for residents; 2) Natural disaster mitigation; 3) Climate change mitigation and adaptation; and, 4) Leveraging and strengthening community. The CAP will directly inform, and be informed by, the climate change mitigation section, Climate Security, of the Resilience Strategy. You can think of the Resilience Strategy as a broader umbrella, and the CAP as one pillar of it alongside several others.

Stay in touch

As the Resilience Office continues the CAP, we want to stay in touch, and keep a two-way dialog going. Please visit to find out more about us and sign up for our newsletter so we can keep you informed of upcoming opportunities to interact.