Amid a widening partisan divide over climate change, Hawaii lawmakers have a message for President Trump: The Paris agreement is needed.
Rebelling against the president's decision last week to pull out of the international climate accord, Hawaii Gov. David Ige has signed into law a measure that aims to push Hawaii toward doing its part to achieve the worldwide greenhouse gas reductions the agreement calls for.
It is the first law in the nation directly responding to the decision, though more are expected.
In addition to encouraging emissions cuts, the law signed Tuesday also promotes "environmental integrity" and the conservation of wetlands and forests — key tenets of the accord, which was signed in 2015 by nearly every country.
The new legislation also committed Hawaii to the newly formed U.S. Climate Alliance, which consists of a dozen states and Puerto Rico that have promised to uphold the Paris climate agreement on the state level.
As a series of low-lying islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, Hawaii is particularly vulnerable to global warming. For decades, rising sea levels and increased coastal flooding and erosion have harmed fragile coastal ecosystems, destroyed crops and damaged roads, structures and other infrastructure.
"Climate change is real, regardless of what others may say," the Democratic governor said at a signing ceremony in Honolulu. "Hawaii is seeing the impacts firsthand. Tides are getting higher, biodiversity is shrinking, coral is bleaching, coastlines are eroding, weather is becoming more extreme. We must acknowledge these realities at home."
He added: "We are the testing grounds…. We are especially aware of the limits of our natural environment."
The Paris deal was forged among 195 countries with the aim of preventing the most devastating effects of global warming by limiting the temperature rise to "well below" 2 degrees Celsuis compared with pre-industrial times. Its targets were not binding, and scientists cautioned that more action would be needed. But the agreement was widely seen as the world's best effort to fight climate change.
Last year, shortly before the accord took effect, President Obama called it "historic … in the fight to protect our planet for future generations."
In withdrawing the U.S. from the accord, Trump said it undermined the economy and weakened national sovereignty. Besides the United States, the only countries not signed on are Syria, which is entering its sixth year of civil war, and Nicaragua, which wanted binding caps on emissions and penalties for countries that did not meet their commitments.
California, New York and other states pushed back almost immediately, vowing to abide by the ideals and tenets of the agreement.
This week, California Gov. Jerry Brown traveled to China for meetings with President Xi Jinping to discuss the issue.
Lawmakers in Hawaii had been awaiting Trump's decision on the accord, having crafted the new legislation as he took office in January so it would be ready immediately if he fulfilled his campaign promise to pull out.
"We knew this was coming and wanted to make sure this state was in a position to move ahead," said Hawaii Senate Majority Leader J. Kalani English, who has criticized Trump for calling climate change a hoax. "We want to be a part of the solution and slow down climate change."
"If the president is not going to lead on climate change, it's on the states," he said in an interview Wednesday. "We're not going to sit on the sidelines."
English, who lives near the shore of Hana, Maui, said he saw rising sea levels firsthand. He grew up in the area, he said, and it's clear the shoreline has come inland over the decades.
"Flooding happens on roads and where it never did before," he said. "This is real."
A 2014 study by the University of Hawaii projected that the islands would be drastically transformed as the climate becomes more arid and sea levels rise as much as 3 feet by the end of this century.
Increasing temperatures are also driving native forest birds on Kauai toward extinction, according to a study published last year in the journal Science Advances. Scientists found steep declines in the populations of honeycreepers, a famously diverse family of forest birds.
As a result of warming, Hawaii would also be especially hard hit by shortages of fresh water and shoreline loss, according to a report last year by the Environmental Protection Agency.
On Tuesday, Ige also signed a separate bill to create a Carbon Farming Task Force to support the development of sustainable agriculture practices in Hawaii.
3:55 p.m.: The story was updated to include comments from a Hawaii state lawmaker, details about the legislation and background about the Paris accord and the threat global warming poses to Hawaii.