As another round of global climate negotiations approach, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has positioned his state to be a national and global role model for aggressive climate action.
Cuomo announced yesterday that New York state has signed the Under 2 Memorandum of Understanding, a global pledge to prevent the Earth’s average temperature from rising 2 degrees Celsius from the pre-industrial level benchmark by 2100 -- which is widely considered the limit to avoid catastrophic climate change. New York joins 42 other jurisdictions in 19 countries that have made the same commitment.
“As U.N. climate negotiations begin in Paris this December, the powerful collective of signatories to the MOU are demonstrating the urgency of action, and the importance of setting binding targets,” Cuomo said in a speech at Columbia University, appearing alongside former Vice President Al Gore. “World leaders must now follow suit.”
Cuomo announced that New York will also reach out to California, Quebec and Ontario, as well as state partners in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) to explore the possibility of linking carbon markets.
“Hopefully, this will drive a national discussion to every state in the nation,” said Cuomo.
In terms of activity within the state, the governor made a new commitment to bring solar to 150,000 more homes and businesses by 2020. He also pledged to install renewable energy at each of the State University of New York’s 64 campuses by the same year.
These recent announcements build on previous efforts to combat climate change, including targets to reduce state emissions 40 percent by 2030 and 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. The goals were introduced under the previous administration, and reaffirmed in June as part of New York’s 2015 State Energy Plan.
To achieve these reductions, New York launched Reforming the Energy Vision -- a comprehensive energy agenda that includes a fundamental restructuring of the state’s electricity sector.
"The leadership shown by Governor Cuomo and New York state to make bold emissions reductions commitments is vital to solving the climate crisis,” said former Vice President Al Gore.
New York’s efforts have been broadly met with praise, but also some skepticism.
Conor Bambrick, air and energy director at Environmental Advocates of New York, said it’s encouraging to see the governor publicly embracing strong goals, but added that the path to meeting them is far from clear.
“From our point of view, these goals are great, they’re ambitious, but we would also need to see a concrete plan as to how to get there,” he said.
New York’s carbon reduction goals are not written into law as California's are. The Golden State has the same target to reduce emissions 80 percent by 2050. Without a clear directive, the heads of state agencies lack the authority and impetus to achieve these goals, which is not going to be any small task, said Bambrick.
“An 80% by 2050 reduction means within the next three decades, our power systems, heating and cooling of buildings, and transport all have to be electrified by clean renewable energy,” he said. “Without a plan or mandate of future administrations written in the law…we worry that the state may fall short.”
Bambrick added that the expansion of New York’s carbon market is an exciting prospect with a lot of potential.
RGGI members are expected to meet through 2016 to discuss the future of the program beyond its current end date of 2020, and as a possible compliance mechanism for the Clean Power Plan. Joining with California, the Canadian provinces and other states in the Northeast adds a new layer to the initiative that could shift RGGI’s carbon market for power plant emissions to an economy-wide program.
Lori Severino, spokesperson for New York State’s Department of Environmental Conservation, reiterated Cuomo’s view that carbon markets are a powerful tool for reducing pollution. But with conversations just getting underway, she said it’s too soon to know what the structure will look like.
Dave Clegern, spokesperson for the California Air Resources Board, said his state is “committed to working with others to expand the number of jurisdictions that put a price on carbon.” However, he would not speculate further on the market design.
California made its own climate news this week with Gov. Jerry Brown signing into law SB 350, which requires the state to generate half of its electricity from renewable sources and double building energy efficiency by 2030. A third goal to cut gasoline use in half was ultimately eliminated from the bill, but legislators kept requirements for California’s electric utilities to invest in electric-vehicle charging infrastructure and support EV adoption.
“The passage and signing of SB 350 prove once again that California is the nation’s leader in the fight against climate change,” said Pasquale Romano, CEO of the EV station network ChargePoint.
New York, it appears, wants to challenge the Golden State for that title.