Kenai mulls climate pact: Agreement encourages community collaboration

Posted: Sunday, December 13, 2009

The city of Kenai is in the midst of deciding whether to sign a compact that encourages Alaska's coastal communities to collaborate in efforts to combat human-induced global climate change.

In part, the compact is meant to bring local communities together on climate change issues so they will have a more powerful voice when lobbying on the state and federal levels.

Kenai City Councilor Bob Molloy introduced a resolution last month encouraging the city council to sign the compact, but the council postponed action. The public will have the opportunity to speak to the matter at the city's Wednesday council meeting.

Molloy amended the original resolution to make it clear that the compact does not support any specific global climate change legislation.

"It's saying that any funds that are generated from legislation or any other source should be used wisely," Molloy said Friday morning. "Part of the benefit of being in a compact is that as a larger group we can network to get appropriate legislation."

After continued dialogue with Steve Hansen, the vice president of Tesoro's Kenai refinery, Molloy also added an amendment making it clear that "the compact does not take non-renewable energy sources off the table for consideration by policymakers.

"Any plan would need to deal with climate change while preserving jobs and maintaining the economy," Molloy said.

Seven local governments, including the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly, Seward and Homer, have already signed the compact.

Bill Smith, Homer's representative on the borough assembly, was influential in getting the borough to sign the agreement. Among other climate change issues, Smith said the peninsula needs to maintain levels in local watersheds to preserve salmon populations. Signing the compact represents the assembly's commitment to climate change issues and gives the body more power to act, according to Smith.

"To have communities come together with one unified statement, even though we have a lot of diverse issues, I think that sends a pretty powerful message," Smith said.

The compact reads: "We, the undersigned Alaska local and regional governments and elected officials, express our deep concern about human-induced global climate change and ocean acidification and issue a call to policymakers to take strong and immediate action to prevent catastrophic impacts from greenhouse gas emissions"

Signatories agree to "Network with other Alaskan coastal communities; encourage action within our own communities; make wise and effective use of resources provided by the state and federal governments for such actions; and support community efforts to educate the public on these issues."

The compact also says that signing demonstrates a belief in notions that:

* Global climate change represents one of the greatest threats of our time.

* Ocean acidification is caused by increased carbon dioxide concentrations from the burning of fossil fuels and is accelerating.

* Alaska can play a role in addressing climate change.

* There are compelling economic arguments to act now.

* The United States has an obligation to take a leadership role in addressing global climate change.

* Immediate action must be taken at all levels of government and throughout society to address global climate change and ocean acidification.

The compact also calls Alaska, "ground zero" for climate change because high latitude regions are particularly vulnerable to climate change impact. In addition, it says the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change "has concluded with 90 percent confidence that today's climate changes are attributable to human activity."

Recently, people skeptical of the human impact on climate change have been reinvigorated by exposed e-mails between many prominent climatologists that seem to suggest scientists could have been manipulating data.

Molloy said he hopes the city council doesn't get hung up on the issue.

"It's clear that there is a human component to the climate change, and there's a lot that we can do to start mitigating our impacts on it," Molloy said.

Science experts like Alaska SeaLife Center President and CEO Ian Dutton, who gave a presentation to the city council on Nov. 24, say the issue isn't up for debate.

In his PowerPoint presentation, Dutton told the council that the top 11 warmest years on record have occurred in the last 12 years. He said Alaska's temperatures have increased 4 degrees Fahrenheit over the past 50 years while worldwide temperatures have increased 1 degree Fahrenheit.

Dutton presented a 2006 statement from Shell Oil that said, "When 98 percent of scientists agree, who is Shell to say, 'let's debate the science?'"

For the record, Shell has since amended that statement to read "when 90-plus percent of the world's leading figures believe that greenhouse gases have impacted the climate of the Earth, who is Shell to say ..."

Smith said that debate has little to do with the compact.

"The first thing to do is conserve energy," Smith said. "And even those individuals who doubt the human impact on climate change, they can all be on board with conserving energy and tax dollars."

Andrew Waite can be reached at andrew.waite@peninsulaclarion.com.



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