Worsening water scarcity, food insecurity, land degradation and wildfires are some of the major consequences our world faces if we don’t act now on climate change.
That’s according to a report released Thursday by the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that focuses on the effects of climate change on our lands and people. These changes threaten our communities, our economy and our livelihoods.
As Washington’s governor, commissioner of public lands, and insurance commissioner, we know that every part of state government plays a role in combating climate change, especially in the absence of federal action.
What does climate change look like in Washington state? Longer droughts and longer wildfire seasons. Warmer, lower-oxygen waterways that put our shellfish, salmon and orca at risk. Unhealthy forests with diseased and dying trees that contribute to severe wildfires.
Fortunately, the climate report highlights land-management actions we can take now to avoid catastrophe, many of which we’ve already launched in Washington. For example, it’s critical we use our lands — including forests and agricultural soils — to trap and store carbon to achieve a significant portion of our carbon reduction goals.
One such effort is working across jurisdictions and property lines to restore unhealthy forests in central and eastern Washington, lessening the potential for wildfires and smoke while sequestering carbon and boosting rural economies. The state Department of Natural Resources, in partnership with federal, tribal and private landowners, is implementing a Forest Health Strategic Plan to return 1.25 million acres of forest to health over the next 20 years.
The Department of Natural Resources is also leveraging our public lands in other ways. This year, the agency signed its first two solar energy leases on state trust lands, and several state agencies signed up as major purchasers of this clean energy. In addition to generating affordable clean energy, these solar farms generate significantly more revenue than the previous leases, increasing funding for public school construction.
At the same time, our state continues to take big steps to cut carbon emissions. We’re transforming our energy grid with the nation’s most aggressive pathway to 100% clean energy. We’ve passed legislation to electrify our transportation system, phase out super-polluting hydrofluorocarbons and build super-efficient buildings. State government is walking the walk — building up our electric vehicle fleet, reducing energy consumption and promoting sustainable business practices.
We are launching a statewide advisory group to learn more about sequestering carbon on our natural and working lands. And we are working to make our communities near coastlines, floodplains and forests more resilient to natural disasters — through efforts such as the Floodplains by Design program, which restores floodplains and helps move people from high flood-risk areas, and coordinated strategies to both treat diseased forests and provide assistance to landowners so they can reduce wildfire risk on their property.
Insurance companies in Washington have been required to disclose their own climate risk since 2010, and residents rely on them to pay claims when disasters strike. The companies’ solvency can be the difference between resilience and disaster for Washingtonians. In California, the insurance company Merced Property & Casualty was bankrupted by claims following November’s deadly Camp Fire.
That’s why the state’s Office of the Insurance Commissioner started a Climate Risk and Resilience working group at the National Association of Insurance Commissioners in 2006, joined the Paris Agreement in 2015, co-founded the international Sustainable Insurance Forum and leads the Washington Disaster Resiliency work group.
These are all meaningful steps forward, but we still have plenty of work ahead. Our state’s spirit of innovation and world-class workforce have put us at the forefront of the clean-energy economy. Already, our West Coast clean-energy economy is growing twice as fast as the rest of the economy, and the lowest prices in the world for new electricity are from wind and solar, not from coal or gas.
And it’s not just our state and region that’s committed to action. Washington helped found the U.S. Climate Alliance, which now includes 25 state governors committed to ambitious climate goals. These states represent more than half the U.S. economy.
Together we are resolved in our collective effort to chart a course for a vibrant and healthy economic and environmental future.