New York state has reached a critical milestone in its effort and planning to become carbon neutral by 2050. After three years of review, hearings and debate, the state has released its climate action Scoping Plan, a blueprint for transitioning to a clean energy economy and ultimately eliminating fossil fuel reliance in the state.
The Scoping Plan flows from New York’s historic Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (Climate Act or CLCPA), which was passed in 2019 and is considered the most progressive climate law in the country. The Climate Act created the Climate Action Council (CAC), which had the job of developing the Scoping Plan.
The CAC voted 19-3 on Dec. 19 to approve the plan, which serves as an initial framework for how the state will reduce carbon emissions 85% by 2050 and achieve its goal of net-zero emissions. The plan details the state’s approach to reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions through decarbonization in every sector of the economy, while accelerating the reliance on electric power through solar, wind and other renewables.
A draft of the Scoping Plan was released one year ago, on Dec. 20, 2021. The council, composed of 22 individuals, including the state’s commissioners of transportation, energy, labor, agriculture, health and environmental conservation, conducted 11 public hearings and received 35,000 written comments.
“The Plan serves as a bold, monumental achievement not just for New York State, but for the nation and the world, which centers on equity and climate justice across all sectors,” DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos, a CAC co-chair, said in a press release.
“We applaud the Climate Action Council for its work on the Final Scoping Plan. When it comes to meeting its ambitious climate targets, we believe that New York must be as ambitious and aggressive as possible while not losing sight of the limits of what is practicable, and this vote puts us on track to do just that,” said NYLCV Policy Director Patrick McClellan.
Among the noted highlights in the plan:
- Accelerating statewide electrification to result in one million to two million homes transitioning to clean heating and clean cooling systems by 2030;
- Accelerating plans and incentives to result in approximately three million zero-emission vehicles on the road by 2030; and
- Electric-grid infrastructure investment and reinforcement to help withstand extreme weather, including storms, and other impacts of climate change.
A key element to the state meeting its climate goal is its increased reliance on wind as a source of power. NYLCV is part of a coalition of environmental groups applauding the plan’s reliance on a minimum of 20 gigawatts (GW) of offshore wind (OSW) under all future scenarios, as a demonstration of the need for New York to extend and increase its current target of 9 GW by 2035.
“The fact is, without a significant ramp-up in offshore wind capacity, New York’s climate goals would remain out of reach. Instead, with today’s milestone vote and their analysis demonstrating the need to build 20 GW of capacity by 2050, the Climate Action Council has put New York on steady footing toward a 100% clean energy grid,” said NYLCV President Julie Tighe.
NYLCV and their coalition partners are calling on Governor Hochul to increase New York’s statutory offshore wind goal to 20 GW by 2050.
However, meeting the targets set out in the Climate Act will require not only offshore wind, but an all-in approach to transitioning our electricity sector off of fossil fuels and onto renewable energy. The plan states that “to decrease the use of emitting fuels in the electricity sector, New York must deploy clean energy resources such as land-based wind and solar, offshore wind, hydropower, fuel cells that use renewable fuels, and energy storage.”
The plan recognizes that the state cannot simply shoehorn renewable energy into the existing system and instead there must be a comprehensive transformation that addresses how the power is generated, delivered and, ultimately, used.
Likewise, the plan’s stated goal is that by 2050, all homes and commercial buildings in the state should have zero-emission heating systems such as energy-efficient heat pumps and thermal energy networks. The recommended guidelines, strategies, and ideal timelines for implementation and achievement provide a clear blueprint for cleaning our state’s residential and commercial buildings while highlighting tactics already passed by the legislature to ensure a fair transition for existing workers.
Buildings are responsible for nearly a third of GHG emissions statewide. The year the Climate Act was passed, 2019, the buildings sector produced more GHG emissions than any other sector.
While the plan notes the challenge of decarbonizing the state’s diverse mix of buildings, it sees the above average age of New York’s structures as an opportunity for large-scale sector-wide GHG emissions reductions.
The plan envisions achieving these reductions by adopting zero-emission codes and standards as well as mechanisms for energy reporting for buildings, increased financial incentives, greater access to low-cost financing to decarbonize buildings, as well as strengthening the state’s commitment to market development and innovation. Identifying funding mechanisms and clear plans for building decarbonization, with strong green job creation with a commitment to addressing environmental justice, is one of NYLCV’s top priorities for the 2023 legislative session.
Another major component of the plan is to transition nearly all vehicles in the state to zero-emission technology by 2050, including public transportation. The plan includes a clean transportation standard, a longtime NYLCV priority, as a recommended means to meet our state’s ambitious climate goals and clean our transportation sector. Adopting a clean transportation standard will help reduce harmful GHG emissions while building accessible, affordable clean energy infrastructure, reducing air pollution and improving public health for all New Yorkers.
“The challenge of achieving the Climate Act requirements should be approached strategically and with an eye toward recognizing the opportunity and delicate balance of facilitating transportation’s role in economic growth with the need to address adverse community, environmental, and human health impacts,” the report states.
In addition to identifying the need to transition to zero-emission vehicles and equipment, and enhance public transportation and mobility alternatives, the plan also promotes planned economic and community development, known as “smart growth,” that attempts to curb urban sprawl and improve environmental conditions. Smart growth is also addressed in the “land use” section of the plan.
The plan lays out key land use strategies to protect, restore, and monitor natural and working lands, and to ensure that forests and farmland are taken into consideration when developing land use policies.
The plan notes some good news: “when surveyed, private landowners owning 91.7% of these forested acres stated that they want to keep their forests as forests.” Nevertheless, the “natural and working lands in many parts of the State are under pressure from development and conversion,” which reduces the amount of CO2 absorbed each year.
The plan recommendations are clear: protect our wetlands, implement the use of afforestation and reforestation, and avoid the conversion of agricultural and forested land conversion.
Smart growth practices are also emphasized as key to reducing GHG emissions.
“The dense and targeted development patterns that result from implementation of smart growth land use principles can support land conservation strategies that are critical to climate change mitigation,” according to the report. “Smart growth and local government planning are important enabling actions that are needed to balance the protection and restoration of natural and working lands, development, and clean energy siting.”
To promote smart growth, the plan recommends, among other strategies, providing planning and technical assistance at the county and local level, and accelerated transit-oriented development to reduce the amount of vehicles on the road.
Agriculture and Forestry
The plan set forth goals in every sector of the economy, including agriculture and forestry, stating that it will “mitigate agriculture greenhouse gas emissions” as among the steps to achieve “net-zero emissions across all sectors of the economy by 2050.”
The plan promotes the implementation of sustainable forest management, advanced livestock management strategies, better soil health and nutrient management, and a climate-focused bioeconomy. This includes opportunities to enhance carbon sequestration through agricultural and forestry best practices and to reduce fossil fuel emissions through more efficient use of fertilizers. The plan also identifies how agricultural policies can impact carbon emissions beyond New York by reducing demand for imported goods.
Waste, which is identified in the plan as all aspects of materials management and wastewater treatment, is a significant driver of GHG emissions. NYLCV has long advocated for a path to zero waste and the scoping plan recognizes the critical role that waste must play in meeting the state’s targets.
The plan notes that “significant increased diversion from landfills as well as emissions monitoring and leak reduction will be needed” while also identifying “significant opportunities to reduce or avoid GHG emissions by improving both materials themselves and our materials management practices.”
The plan’s three-tiered approach includes methods and strategies to reduce, reuse, and recycle waste; establish markets for the beneficial use of recovered resources and biogas; and monitor, detect, and reduce fugitive emissions, which are leaks of gas or vapors, often coming from appliances, storage tanks, or other pieces of equipment, and often near the end of their lifecycle.
The plan also focuses a great deal on the need to reduce the use of fossil natural gas and, given how dependent consumers are on this, the need for a “ strategic downsizing” of the system while building up the capacity to create and deliver more electricity and alternative energy sources.
Additionally, the plan calls for consideration of” the affordability of any transition so consumers aren’t financially burdened; the equitable access to alternative energy options; and a robust public education plan.
In order to reach the targets set out in the Climate Act, the plan envisions the “vast majority of current fossil natural gas customers will transition to electricity by 2050” and their analysis “identified fossil natural gas use reductions statewide by at least 33% by 2030 and by 57% by 2035.”
As with all New York state climate legislation, the plan also emphasizes climate justice, in conjunction with economic development, so that disadvantaged communities that suffer disproportionately from the impact of climate change will benefit proportionately from this plan. To that end, the Climate Act requires that disadvantaged communities receive a minimum of 35 percent, with a goal of 40 percent, of the benefits of investment in clean energy and energy efficiency programs, including housing, pollution reduction and job and economic development.
A successful implementation of the Climate Act also means good and plentiful job opportunities. A jobs study done by a CAC sub-committee estimates that the shift to clean energy will create 200,000 jobs across the state by 2030, with a projected 10 jobs added in the growing clean energy sectors for every job potentially lost in displaced, carbon-emitting areas.
From offshore wind, to clean transportation, to clean buildings, the final scoping plan places New York firmly on the path to a clean energy future. NYLCV looks forward to working with Governor Hochul, all relevant state agencies, and the Legislature to implement this plan with all due haste.
The Scoping Plan’s recommendations will be adopted in the next State Energy Plan. The Climate Action Council will next update the Scoping Plan in five years.