OPINION: Governor’s focus on a transition economy is good for Alaska

By Erin Dovichin, Erin Harrington and Shaina Kilcoyne

Governor Mike Dunleavy is asking Alaska legislators to embark on a significant journey with him in this coming legislative session – one that will position Alaska to assume a leading role in global efforts toward carbon sequestration and storage, and that can yield significant and meaningful opportunities for Alaska’s economy, people, and the state purse.

With the preview of his upcoming Carbon Management Bill package, and in an op-ed last Friday, Dunleavy’s messages to Alaskans were clear. First, global efforts to sequester carbon, whether in trees or underground, are big business. And second, as a result, Alaska’s incredible natural resources, including geologic formations and our biological assets like forests, will be a source of future wealth for our state. As Governor Dunleavy stated in his press release, carbon management can be “the cornerstone of a long-term fiscal solution” for Alaska’s future.

The governor’s statement is bold, and we think it is spot on. Positioning Alaska to be part of global efforts to address climate change is a smart and strategic economic decision. Trillions of dollars in private, institutional, and governmental funds are shifting toward mounting a response to climate change. No matter one’s ideology, using Alaska’s resources in this effort is good business sense.

A pair of research papers recently published by longtime Alaska firm McKinley Research Group pointed to the climate transition economy, and to the economic opportunities that Alaska could realize if it assumed a leadership role in this work.

The first of these papers, “Alaska Resources and Opportunities in the Response to Global Climate Change,” highlighted the incredible scale of global financial resources that are moving toward climate solutions, and noted the need for a “thorough assessment of regulatory barriers or structures that hamper Alaska efforts to… monetize natural resources in the climate response.” The paper, which was produced for Alaska Venture Fund, flagged carbon offsets and carbon sequestration as opportunities where business and tech interests were already investing in or investigating Alaska. With his announcement, Governor Dunleavy signaled his desire to jump in and do the necessary work to lay the foundation for these kinds of investments.

The second of these papers, produced as part of The Nature Conservancy’s Alaska Climate Opportunities Assessment, pointed to the incredible potential to “harness natural resources for climate and economic leadership.” Alaska’s vast landscape and ocean resources are already a globally significant platform for one of the most powerful and important tools in the toolbox for battling climate change – that of using trees, oceans, and other natural systems to draw down carbon from the atmosphere. Now the work must be done to ensure those systems bring double benefits to Alaska, by buffering and acting against climate change while simultaneously yielding revenues to the state and its people.

Alaska has been a global energy powerhouse for more than a generation, but for a time it seemed that political and business leaders felt the global economic shift toward a low carbon economy would only threaten our future wellbeing. The announcement this past week shows a different kind of vision for the future is emerging. Alaska has world-class resources to contribute to the global climate transition. Our people have inspiring and economically meaningful work to do to be part of this future.

Take renewable energy. If harnessed fully, Alaska’s renewables could produce, in less than two years, the equivalent energy to all that was generated through nearly 45 years of operation of the petroleum fields of the North Slope. The state’s total annual renewable energy potential is one-tenth of the projected 2040 world energy demand. We know we won’t build Alaska over with wind generators, but even with easily accessible renewable energy sources on the Railbelt, Alaska could position itself as a global leader in green energy export – in the form of green hydrogen – while cleanly and affordably powering its own communities.

We look forward to working with Governor Dunleavy and Alaskans to advance these kinds of opportunities, which a legislative package could create. We believe these efforts can bring benefits to Alaska communities and our economy, while rising to the challenges of climate change. Thus far Alaska has been on the front lines of climate change impacts. It is the time – now – to assume our position on the front line of climate solutions.

Originally published in the Anchorage Daily News, 1/18/23.

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