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Climate Week: Less Talk, More Action

Last week was Climate Week in New York City. Climate Week NYC is an annual series of events focused on the growing harm caused by global warming and is coordinated with the United Nations. This event was one of many as the world moves toward a global summit on climate change being held in Glasgow, Scotland in early November (COP26).

The global summit is an annual meeting of the world’s leaders to report on how they are addressing the growing threat posed by global warming. In 2015, at the Paris Summit, every

country agreed to work together to limit global warming to well below 3.62 degrees Fahrenheit and aim for no more than 2.7 degrees above pre-industrial temperatures, to adapt to the impacts of a changing climate, and to make money available to deliver on these aims.

Under the Paris Agreement, countries committed to bring forward national plans setting out how much they would reduce their emissions. They agreed that every five years they would come back with an updated plan that would reflect their highest possible ambition at that time.

This year’s summit in Glasgow is (delayed by a year due to the pandemic) when countries update their plans for reducing emissions. But the commitments laid out in Paris did not come close to limiting global warming to 2.7 degrees, and the window for achieving this is closing. The actions taken this decade will be crucial to forestall the worst of the harm caused by global warming.

The United States has squandered much of the past five years due to the reckless leadership of the Trump Administration, which not only pulled out of the Paris Agreement but seemingly did everything it could to hasten the devastation from climate changes driven by the burning of oil, gas, and coal.

The result has been stunning: According to the EPA, over the last few months alone, weather disasters have struck one in three Americans across the country.

Here in New York, state government stepped into the breach caused by the failures of the Trump Administration to respond to the environmental dangers posed by climate change. Under former Governor Cuomo, myriad actions were taken to reduce the state’s support for expanding the use of oil and gas and to pledge for a greater reliance on renewable, clean sources of power.

The state even set legal goals for itself in statute: In 2019’s “Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act,” the state pledged to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 85 percent by 2050, mandated a goal of a zero-greenhouse gas emission electricity sector by 2040, including 70 percent renewable energy generation by 2030.

This past week, Governor Hochul announced projects – both big and small – that strengthened New York’s efforts toward those goals. She announced funding for water infrastructure projects designed to make those systems more resilient from the ravages of more intense storms, plans to modernize New York’s old hydroelectric plants operating in upstate New York, funding for various wind and solar projects, approved legislation requiring that cars sold in New York starting in the year 2035 must be zero emission vehicles, and she proposed that the state increase the size of its proposed environmental bond act from $3 billion to $4 billion – whether the state approves that bond sale will be a question for voters to decide in 2022.

The biggest proposal that she advanced was that New York was proposing two massive plans to bring electricity to New York City – home to almost half the state’s population and the state’s primary financial engine. One of those plans was to bring hydroelectric power down from Quebec in Canada and the other would transmit power generated by wind and solar sources from upstate to New York City.

Of course, the reliance on hydro power does have adverse environmental impacts and even wind and solar power can cause problems. But none of these options pose the same existential threat generated by the burning of oil, coal, and gas – the sources of global warming.

And while the policy agenda advanced by New York State’s leaders are cutting edge, delivering the goods, and showing the nation – and the world – how to get it done will be crucial. The actions taken so far are important, but so will be the development of a reporting system that shows New Yorkers how well the state is progressing. Let’s not lose sight of the fact that we all pay for these proposals, mostly through small surcharges to our monthly electric bills.

To meet the long-range goals set in state law, New York must be taking steps now. The governor’s pledges from this year’s Climate Week are important. She now needs to set up a transparency system to ensure that New Yorkers can determine whether her environmental rhetoric meets the policy reality.

Blair Horner is executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors.They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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