Watchdog: Public needs info on state’s climate goals

ALBANY — The state must act quickly to meet its ambitious climate change goals, a state watchdog group said Monday, hours before climate leaders met to advance plans to achieve strict benchmarks mandated to curb New York’s greenhouse gas emissions.

The New York Public Interest Research Group this week recommended officials create a public climate dashboard, or online scorecard, for people to easily access information about impending changes to achieve steep climate and energy goals legislated in the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act.

Passed and signed in 2019, the Climate Act mandates a 40% reduction of statewide greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and a 85% emissions reduction by 2050. The legislation also set goals to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and 100% carbon-free electricity by 2040.

“Unfortunately, New York is still far from meeting many of its climate goals,” NYPIRG Environmental Policy Director Liz Moran said Monday. “To motivate New York to adopt the strong policies needed to meet the state’s essential climate goals, a scorecard for the public must be made readily available by New York state. The Climate Action Council is currently in the process of creating a Climate Action Plan to recommend actions the state can take — this is a crucial time for the public to be given information about where the state stands in respect to its climate goals.”

NYPIRG released its scorecard on the state’s progress a few hours before the state’s 22-member Climate Action Council met Monday afternoon to continue to prepare a scoping plan with recommendations to ensure the state satisfies its steep climate goals.

Regular public reports and public accountability will be key to ensure New York meets its climate goals, according to NYPIRG, to bolster public support for changes that may not come easily to New Yorkers, including the exponential growth of solar, wind and geothermal energy and the phasing out of fossil fuel power plants and related infrastructure.

The Climate Act also mandates 70% of state electricity be generated by renewable sources by 2030, 6 gigiwatts of distributed solar by 2025, 9 gigiwatts of offshore wind by 2035 and 3 gigiwatts of energy storage capacity by 2030, among others.

“For each goal established in the CLCPA, New York has much work left to do in order to achieve the goals set out in the law,” according to NYPIRG. “… New York will need to eliminate its reliance on energy derived from fossil fuel and promote renewable energy in all economic sectors.”

The state needs about 5% annual growth of using renewable energy to meet the goal of 70% renewable electricity by 2030, and to cut emissions by at least 3% each year to satisfy the 2030 goal, and 2.25% each year after that to meet the 2050 benchmark.

New York has reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 13% since 1990. Electricity emissions have declined 51% since 2005.

The state is on track to meet its solar energy requirements, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association cited in NYPIRG’s report.

“New York State has, in the past, had a poor record of meeting climate and energy goals,” according to NYPIRG. “In order to ensure New York state meets its legally-mandated and ambitious goals, public support will be critical. By making a climate scorecard for the public and incorporating information on the CLCPA goals in all of New York’s climate and energy pages, the public will be enabled to better advocate for the wellbeing of their communities and for New York to adopt policies to meet its climate goals.”

The Climate Action Council on Monday reviewed recommendations submitted by its seven advisory panels last month about the best strategies to include in a draft scoping plan for New York to achieve a carbon-neutral economy. The panels are comprised of experts from across the state on Transportation, Agriculture and Forestry, Land Use and Local Government, Power Generation, Energy Efficiency and Housing, Energy Intensive and Trade Exposed Industries and Waste.

Transportation recommendations need to be amended and resubmitted, panelists said, because the strategies were too vague to improve accessibility and affordability of services to meet state decarbonization goals.

Climate leaders also stressed the need for transportation changes to be community-driven, increase electric vehicles and to emphasize improving municipal public transportation upstate and downstate with long-term bus services and high-speed rail.

State Department of Transportation Commissioner Marie Therese Dominguez, a member of the Climate Action Council, noted the challenge of earmarking state and Transportation and Climate Initiative funds to expand public transportation in underserved communities, or poor, rural and minority neighborhoods.

“How do we make sure those funds aren’t raided for other purposes?” Dominguez asked. “What is the mechanism by which we could secure some of that funding?”

“I think the problem is is that there is no way to guarantee that,” replied Eddie Bautista, executive director of the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance.

The world needs to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius to avoid catastrophic results, according to the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change October 2018 report. All nations must aggressively move to a reliance on clean, renewable energy by 2030 in order to limit the warming caused by climate change.

The council’s final scoping plan will be posted online and delivered to Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Legislature in 2023. The state Department of Environmental Conservation is slated to release regulations based on the plan’s strategies in 2024.


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