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New York, states set the bar on climate action

This summer, New York continued its climate leadership by enacting one of the country’s most ambitious state climate laws. New York’s new law invigorates the momentum for individual states to adopt ambitious state environmental legislation and policies. State policies amass great weight on their own, but they also spur bolder action in clean energy and efficiency from businesses and utilities.

The New York Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA), passed and signed into law on July 18, sets a target of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. To accomplish this goal, the new law requires a statewide 85 percent reduction from 1990 levels of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, allowing the remainder to come from carbon offsets.

A consistent climate leader

New York has been an environmental policy leader for a long time. The 2019 CLCPA builds on a suite of increasingly ambitious regulations, standards, and initiatives since 2004. Key examples include:

  • 2004: Implemented its first renewable portfolio standard (RPS), requiring 25 percent of electricity to come from renewable energy sources by 2013.
  • 2005: Joined the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative – a cap-and-trade program to limit carbon dioxide from the power sector.
  • 2010: Adopted a stricter RPS, requiring 30 percent of electricity to come from renewable energy sources.
  • 2014: Launched Reforming the Energy Vision – a comprehensive strategy to build, strengthen and modernize New York’s energy system. The REV 2030 goals include a 40 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions below 40 percent 1990 levels by 2030, and proposed 70 percent of the state electricity come from renewable sources by 2030.
  • 2016: Adopted one of the first clean energy standards (CES) in the country. The CES mandates 50 percent of electricity sales to come from renewable energy sources by 2030.

New York is not alone in raising the bar on climate policies. Other states have also set ambitious targets and adopted stricter policies to tackle climate change. For example, 34 states (including New York) and the District of Columbia have developed comprehensive roadmaps to address greenhouse gas emissions across the economy through their respective state climate action plans. These plans set climate goals and implementation strategies suited for different sectors, and identify available financial resources. They also track progress toward a state’s goal so that the it can alter its strategy if needed.

To mitigate climate change, 23 states and D.C. have enacted greenhouse gas emissions targets. Moreover, some states have implemented clean and renewable energy standards: 29 states and D.C. require their electric utilities to deliver a certain amount of electricity from renewable or clean energy sources.

U.S. State Electricity Portfolio Standards

States are also banding together to implement climate goals. Back in 2017, New York, along with California and Washington, formed the U.S. Climate Alliance. The Alliance is a group of  24 states, and Puerto Rico, who are committed to implementing policies consistent with the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement. Its membership and influence keeps growing, with eight new members joining it in 2019 alone.

Sending important signals

These plans and policies provide important signals to businesses and utilities that are striving toward efficiency and clean energy. In 2018, corporate procurement of wind and solar energy more than doubled. Industrial manufacturer Siemens has committed to become carbon neutral by 2030, and United Airlines has pledged to reduce carbon emissions 50 percent by 2050. Numerous utilities have announced plans to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. Xcel Energy, an electricity provider in the central United States, has committed to reducing carbon emissions 80 percent by 2030, and to be carbon free by 2050. National Grid (in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New York) plans on reducing its greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050. PSE&G (New Jersey) and Southern (in Georgia, Mississippi and Alabama) have similar plans.

Why do state actions matter?

New York is the 13th largest economy in the world. California, Texas, and Florida also rank in the top 20. Having these significant economies adopt ambitious climate goals sends signals to policy makers and to the business community, both globally and in the United States, that change is needed. This will, in turn, help stimulate private investment.

Ambitious state climate legislation and policies are essential tools in the effort to keep the global temperature from increasing 1.5 degrees C above pre-industrial levels – a limit United Nations’ climate experts say is needed to avoid the most damaging changes to the Earth’s climate. C2ES has published scenarios for decarbonizing the U.S. economy by 2050, showing that we will need action from all actors. With the absence of federal leadership, state action like New York’s should be replicated across the country in the near term to help restore the U.S.’s role in leading the effort to meet the world’s climate goals.