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Hawai'i CFS

Hawai'i Becomes First State to Adopt Paris Climate Pledge

June 6th, 2017
Center for Food Safety

Hawai‘i Center for Food Safety-sponsored bill to establish soil task force signed into law

HONOLULU — Today marks an historic moment in the efforts to fight the impacts of climate change as Governor David Ige signs two bills into law that make HawaiÊ»i the first in the nation to legally support the Paris Climate agreement.

SB559 is geared toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions in accordance with the goals and principles of the Paris Climate agreement; and HB1578, which was written and championed by environment and food movement organization Hawai‘i Center for Food Safety (HCFS), along with the Sierra Club of HawaiÊ»i and Surfrider Foundation OÊ»ahu Chapter, creates a task force that will provide incentives for farmers and ranchers to improve the resilience of their land and protect their livelihoods and food security in the face of escalating climate uncertainty. With interest in combatting climate change through soil health initiatives steadily growing across the country, Hawai‘i’s creation of a task force positions the state as a leader in the movement.

“We are thrilled to see the state of HawaiÊ»i investing in practices and people that promote a resilient and healthy climate, food, and water future,” said Ashley Lukens, Hawai‘i Center for Food Safety director. “President Trump may have pulled out of the Paris Climate Agreement, but HawaiÊ»i is on the frontlines of climate impacts and we remain committed to action. Establishing a Carbon Farming Task Force is a major step forward on the path to a stable climate and secure food future, and we hope to see other states moving ahead regardless of Washington.”                                                 

"It's important that Hawaii recommits to addressing climate change, but it's more important that we take meaningful steps to actually follow through, and our bill empowers and rewards our local farmers to do just that," said Representative Chris Lee, who introduced the bill and helped to advance it forward.

The current industrial model agricultural system contributes roughly one-third of planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions globally. However, agriculture also has the unique potential be a solution to the negative effects of human-induced climate change. Emerging soil science shows climate-friendly farming can draw down carbon from the atmosphere and put it back into the soil where it can provide the foundation for healthy, functioning ecosystems.

“Soil is one of the greatest under-tapped resources for fighting the battle against climate change,” said Rebecca Ryals, University of Hawai‘i Assistant Professor of Agricultural Ecosystem Ecology. “Soils that store carbon also improve water and nutrient retention, reduce erosion, and support higher crop yields. Tropical soils have incredible potential to store carbon, to foster a healthy environment, and to help our local farmers and ranchers. The Carbon Farming Task Force is a critically important first step toward finding local solutions to global climate change, and soil carbon farming strategies should be emphasized in its incentive programs.”

Many of HawaiÊ»i’s soils are currently degraded, but the establishment of the Carbon Farming Task Force is an opportunity to reverse this trend and take advantage of the numerous benefits healthy soils provide, including: reduced sediment, erosion and dust; increased fresh water retention; improved water quality; reduced salinity; improved plant health and crop yields; a reduced need for synthetic inputs; and sequestered carbon dioxide.

“Our island community should be looking to move towards a circular, regenerative society to usher in a new sustainable era. Initiatives like the Carbon Farming Task Force are steps that advance these goals by connecting issues from mauka to makai,” said Rafael Bergstrom, Surfrider Foundation Oahu Chapter Coordinator. “In addition to being one of the most viable carbon sinks, healthy soils ultimately reduce the impact of runoff, erosion, and sedimentation that drastically affect the health of our nearshore waters and reefs. Surfrider Foundation is proud to be engaging in these solutions through our Ocean Friendly Garden program which teaches homeowners the value of healthy soils in combating the pollution associated from stormwater runoff.”

The bill will go into effect on July 1, 2017. The task force will be housed within the Office of Planning with 15 members from various state and county level government offices as well as the University of Hawaii, among others. The task force has to present its preliminary report to the legislature in 2025 that includes research on the types of agricultural practices that provide greenhouse gas benefits, along with short term and long term benefits of these practices, criteria for a certification program to baseline levels, and a breakdown of the kinds of incentives the state could offer.


Additional Resources

Center for Food Safety has been advocating on the soil climate change connection for over four years through it’s Soil Solutions program, working with numerous states and the French government to pass meaningful policies that promote healthy soil initiatives. For resources, videos and up-to-date media content, visit:


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