New York’s Carbon Emission Reduction Goals Will they be enough and will they be in time?

Greenland approaching the threshold.

Greenland approaching the threshold.

by: Jeff Jones

Dramatic action to cut greenhouse gas emissions has never been more urgent. Carbon emissions increased nationwide last year by 3.4 percent, ending three years of decline. Our action needs to (1) be speedy and (2) effect large-scale change. Today we learn that Greenland’s Ice is melting much faster than previously anticipated, with a dramatic 4 times the ice loss compared to 2003, and that the warming threshold could be passed in a matter of years, making Greenland meltdown and rising seas irreversible. At the end of last year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that we may only have 10-12 years to get off fossil fuels soon enough to reverse and begin to stop this terrifying trend.

We salute Governor Cuomo for addressing climate change as one of his third-term priorities: Raising the state’s target for renewable electricity from 50 to 70% by the year 2030 symbolized this commitment and would be a tremendous accomplishment. In particular, committing to fund 8 new positions to speed the siting of renewable energy projects - solar and wind power - at the Department of Public Service is critically important. He has raised the bar by pledging to bring 100% carbon-free electricity by 2040. Achieving these goals includes making New York State a national hub for offshore wind power.

But New York is up against a huge backlog of renewable projects awaiting state review and approval. It is hard to believe, with all the talk about New York’s leading role, but the state has only approved one renewable project since the passage of its power plant siting law in 2011. That is Public Service Law Article 10, originally crafted to ensure minimal environmental impacts from large gas and other fossil fuel plants, and now making approval of solar and wind projects unnecessarily expensive, unpredictable and cumbersome. Adding muscle to the reviewing staff will help: a full review of the regulations and practices is also essential.

Why are we focused on replacing fossil fuel-fired electricity with renewable sources? Because the decarbonization of our society rests on getting the greenhouse gas out of our generation of electricity – and then replacing current energy sources for transportation, heating, and industrial processes with carbon-free electricity.  That is the pathway for reaching the ultimate goal – adopted by many US states and many countries – of at least an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by mid-century. That is the kind of action climate scientists tell us is needed to actually affect the direction of climate change. When our federal government is moving in the opposite direction, action by New York and sister states and cities will make all the difference.