Governor Andrew Cuomo, joined by Vice President Al Gore at Columbia University, on Thursday announced several new actions to increase New York State’s commitment to fighting climate change and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
“In the case of climate change,” Cuomo said, “denial is not a survival strategy.”
New York State has already made major commitments to increase renewable energy sources and reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, a major greenhouse gas contributing to climate change.
Last year, the state produced more hydroelectricity than any other state east of the Rocky Mountains, and from just 2011 to 2014, solar power grew more than 300 percent. When SolarCity’s GigaFactory in Buffalo is completed next year, it will be the largest solar panel factory in the Western Hemisphere, creating 5,000 jobs across New York State.
Since 2005, New York City has reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 19 percent, and is the largest city in the world committed to reducing emissions 80 percent by 2050. Earlier this year, New York set an aggressive target to reduce emissions by 40 percent and increase electricity from renewable sources to 50 percent by 2030, as part of its 2015 State Energy Plan.
Cuomo took that all a step further on Thursday. In front of an audience of over 700 Columbia University students, faculty and staff; local and state government officials; and environmental advocates, Cuomo and Gore signed the “Under 2 MOU.” By signing this “memorandum of understanding,” the governor joined 42 other jurisdictions worldwide in a commitment to prevent the global average temperature from rising 2 degrees Celsius above the pre-Industrial Age average. That’s the limit that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said is needed to curb catastrophic climate-related events such as extreme weather, drought, and dramatic sea level rise.
The governor also announced his administration’s intention to work closely with California and several Canadian provinces to build a broad North American carbon market, also known as a cap-and-trade system. New York is already a member of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, the first market-based regulatory program in the United States to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, made up of a coalition of nine Northeastern U.S. states. California recently implemented its own cap-and-trade system, and Cuomo hopes that combining these efforts will result in an expansive market that is both environmentally impactful and economically stable.
Finally, the governor announced his Shared Renewables program, which will allow commercial renewable energy projects to share the electricity they generate with surrounding communities, bringing solar to more than 150,000 homes and businesses by 2020. New York State will continue to invest in renewable energy for its public buildings and initiatives to achieve the goals of the State Energy Plan, and the State University of New York (SUNY) will install clean energy technology at each of its 64 campuses by 2020.
With today’s gridlock in Congress, New York’s leadership on climate change and renewable energy is filling an essential role. “We can address climate change, but we must have the political will and the leadership to do it,” Cuomo said.
Government has an important role to play in our transition to a sustainable and renewable resource-based economy. The private sector also has a role, but it can’t make the transition by itself. Some goals are so massive, important and difficult that they require government leadership, resources and authority.
Former Vice President Gore applauded Cuomo’s commitments, saying they are “vital to solving the climate crisis.” He also reminded the audience of the urgency in addressing climate change and the increasing threats that coastal areas like New York face. The world has seen a pattern of increasingly dangerous extreme weather events, such as hurricanes, droughts and blizzards, and it’s time that governments step up with concrete actions to address the cause of these events. Despite politicians who deny the science of climate change and the limited global consensus on how to decrease greenhouse gas emissions, Gore left the audience with a positive thought: “Remember that political will is also a renewable resource.”
All photos copyright Timothy Lyons, The Earth Institute.