Last year, Governor Cuomo and state lawmakers agreed on ambitious goals to show the nation how to attack the climate crisis here in our own backyard. It is well-established that the burning of oil, coal and gas has triggered global warming that threatens our habitat.
Removing the atmospheric “blanket” created by fossil fuel emissions requires humankind to drastically reduce its reliance on oil, coal and gas for power. Instead the world will have to rely on newer, non-carbon-based, sources of power – like solar and wind – and prioritize energy efficiency and conservation.
The nation is well aware of this necessary change, but the failures of the political leadership – most notably of late the negligence of the anti-science policies of the Trump Administration – has required American states to lead the way.
With much fanfare, last year New York set some of the most ambitious goals for tackling the looming climate catastrophe. In 2019, the legislature passed the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act. The legislation established an ambitious plan that mandates that, by the year 2040 100 percent of the state’s electricity be generated non-fossil fuel power, and that 70 percent of electricity be generated by renewable sources by 2030.
In addition, the new law requires that by 2050 the state must reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 85 percent from 1990 levels and offset the remaining 15% by reforestation, carbon sequestration in soils and other actions.
After the governor approved the legislation, New York joined Maine, Oregon, Washington, Colorado, New Mexico, California, and New Jersey, which have passed substantive clean energy policies in the past year or so. (Hawaii has had its 100 percent renewables target in place since 2015.)
But the legislation offered little in the way of details on how the state would achieve these laudable goals. Instead, the legislation established a panel, a 22-member Climate Action Council, to develop the roadmap for action. The Council, composed of the heads of various state agencies, along with members appointed by the governor, the Senate, and the Assembly, will be holding its first meeting this week.
The first action the Council must take, and it should be done right away, is to develop a baseline of where the state is at currently in terms of renewable power and greenhouse gas emissions. It is critically important that the Council set that benchmark and develop an easy-to-use, publicly accessible climate goal dashboard to ensure accountability of the progress the state is making. If we don’t know where we are at now, we have no way to determine whether we’re making progress in meeting these ambitious -- but absolutely necessary -- goals.
The public must believe that progress is being made and the state must make progress. Waiting until the last minute ensures that New York won’t meet its goals.
There is a history of the state’s environmental rhetoric not meeting the environmental reality.
In 2004, then-Governor Pataki promised that the state would achieve 25% renewable energy for electricity by 2013. That goal was increased to 30% by 2015 under then-Governor Patterson. In 2009, Governor Paterson amended the goal to obtain 45% of the state’s electricity by clean power and energy efficiency. In 2015, the state did not meet those goals.
In fact, since these goals were established, New York has added less than 5% of its power production from wind and solar sources.
In order to meet the new legislation’s goals, New York must cut greenhouse gas emissions by 2.7% each year to meet its 2030 goal, and 2.25% each year afterwards to meet the 2050 goal. Emission reductions must be accelerated across all sectors, especially in transportation, which accounts for the largest share of greenhouse gas emissions in New York.
If New York is going to meet its renewable energy goals, solar and wind will need to increase by 6.5% annually until 2030, and 3% annually afterwards to meet the 2040 goal.
But unless there is widespread public support for these changes, the overhaul of the state’s energy sector will be much harder to achieve. And the key to that success hinges on the Climate Action Council taking its first steps – immediate steps – to ensure accountability and transparency in tracking progress toward its important goals. Failure to achieve those goals could result in a more devastating future for the people of the world. Among its first tasks the Council should develop a dashboard so New Yorkers can monitor whether New York is meeting its mandate to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and transition to renewable energy. Everything is riding on a successful effort.
Blair Horner is executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group.
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