NYS climate bill must target 100% clean energy by 2030
Testimony by Howie Hawkins, Senate Standing Committee on Environmental Conservation Public Hearing to discuss the Climate and Community Protection Act.
Albany, NY, February 11, 2019 – Thank you for this public hearing to discuss how to strengthen and improve the Climate and Community Protection Act (A3871/S2292). My name is Howie Hawkins. I am a retired Teamster from Syracuse, New York. I was the Green Party candidate for Governor of New York in 2010, 2014, and 2018.
A common theme of our three Green Party campaigns for governor was a Green New Deal for New York. The Green New Deal we envision would realize the full promise of the original New Deal as President Roosevelt articulated it in his last State of the Nation address in 1944 when he called upon Congress to enact an economic bill of rights to a job, income, housing, health care, and education. We called it the Green New Deal because it also proposed an emergency clean energy program to protect the climate and provide the economic stimulus and environmentally sustainable foundation for economic security for all.
With respect to the climate action program, our campaign called for a state plan to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions and provide 100% clean energy by 2030. We called for an immediate ban on fracking and on all new fossil fuel infrastructure, particularly new gas pipelines and gas-fired power plants.
These and other climate action goals the Greens support were incorporated into the New York Off Fossil Fuels Act (A5105A/S5908A). The Green Party has also endorsed Green New Deal for New York Act (A5334/S2878A) that was announced yesterday by its lead sponsors, Sen. James Sanders and Assemblyman Felix Ortiz. This act would would set up a state task force to develop a plan and corresponding legislation within one year to build a carbon-neutral 100% clean energy economy by 2030 in a Just Transition that secures economic and environmental justice for all New Yorkers.
Improve the Climate Bill: Include the Best Provisions of All Climate Bills Introduced
If there is one point I want to get across today, it is that the legislature should adopt a climate bill that incorporates the strongest and best provisions of all the climate bills that have been introduced—and, given the urgency of the climate emergency, it should be enacted it this year.
The Climate and Community Protection Act (CCPA) introduced last year presents a greenhouse gas reduction timeline that is too little and too late to meet what current climate science indicates we must do to avert dangerous climate change. It does not halt new fracked-gas pipelines and power plants that will increase the state’s carbon footprint and lock the state into decades of more greenhouse gas emissions.
CCPA has strong worker standards such as prevailing wages that should be included in a climate bill. It also has good Just Transition and environmental justice provisions, including funding for disadvantaged communities. NY OFF has more detailed Just Transition provisions to workers and communities dependent upon fossil fuel plants.
We need a bill that incorporates the best provisions of both the CCPA and NY OFF if New York is to do its part in preserving a climate that can sustain human civilization.
What New York does by itself will not avert global climate chaos. But New York would be the world’s 11th largest economy if it was a nation. It is a world media and financial center. What New York does really matters. New York can demonstrate that a 100% clean energy system by 2030 is technologically feasible and provides a strong economic stimulus and broad economic benefits. New York can set an example that the nation and the world will want to follow.
I also urge the legislature to combine climate legislation with economic justice legislation as part of a broader Green New Deal. That broader framework is embodied in the congressional resolution for a Green New Deal announced last week by Rep. Alexandrea Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ed Markey last week and by the Green New Deal for New York Act announced by Sen. James Sanders and Assemblyman Felix Ortiz yesterday. The Green Party is encouraged to see the linkage of climate safety and economic justice that we have been calling for.
This linkage is a prerequisite for building the political coalition we need to get strong climate legislation passed. Most people want climate action, but many hesitate on particular proposals when they are not assured of their economic security. We saw this hesitation in the last November’s general elections in the failure of referenda for fracking limits in Colorado and a carbon tax in Washington State. Beyond the necessary provisions in a climate bill for environmental justice and a Just Transition for workers and communities most directly impacted by the energy transition, we need other legislation to secure the economic rights to employment, income, housing, health care, and education. These public guarantees will assure everyone that they will be economically secure as we convert to a 100% clean energy economy.
Grounded in Science: Zero Emissions and 100% Clean Energy by 2030
The climate science indicates that the proper goal for greenhouse gas emissions and clean energy production should be 100% by 2030. And studies by engineers and economists indicate this goal is feasible with existing technologies and would provide enormous economic benefits. 100% by 2030 should be the target in a New York State climate bill.
It is important to keep in mind how devastating dangerous climate change would be. It would be much more than more intense storms and more frequent heat waves. It would mean mass extinctions and the collapse of ecosystems, reduced food production, economic contraction, general impoverishment, mass migrations, and social conflicts and wars over dwindling resources. We have to base legislation on what the science says is necessary to stay within the climatic range of the Holocene period in which we live, which has been material foundation for agriculture that makes human civilization possible.
The legislative findings of the current Climate and Community Protection Act cites a target of 450 parts million (ppm) carbon dioxide equivalents in the atmosphere and eliminating carbon emissions by 2050 in order to keep global warming below a 2°C limit for dangerous climate change. The climate science for these targets is a decade out of date.
The target of 2°C as the threshold for dangerous climate change was adopted by majority of the wealthy and poor countries in the Copenhagen Climate Change Accord in 2009. The UN’s International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in its Fourth Assessment Report in 2007 had said the science indicated that limiting atmospheric carbon to 450 ppm would give the world a 50% chance of meeting the 2°C target and avoiding dangerous climate change.
The settling upon this 2°C was more arbitrary and political than science based. When climate scientists started trying to assess the impact of global warming in the 1970s, they started by asking what would happen if carbon dioxide doubled over pre-industrial levels to 550 ppm. The early models said this would cause a 2°C rise. By the time of the 2009 Copenhagen conference, the models said that 450 ppm was the threshold for 2°C. The target of 2°C was settled upon because there was climate modeling based on it and it seemed a target that could be reached by 2050 without great transformations or disruptions to industrial economies. The safety of the 2°C was not well established.
Subsequent climate research began to question the safety of 2°C. Last October’s IPPC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C was a response to those concerns. That report says that to reach the 1.5°C target will require global emissions reductions of 45% from 2010 levels by 2030 and reaching net zero by 2050. But this assessment is based on a tripling of the remaining carbon budget over what the IPPC’s Fifth Assessment Report indicated in 2013. This change increased the “carbon budget” of what can be emitted at current rates from seven years to 14 years if the world is to have a 50% chance of peaking at 1.5°C. The Special Report also counts on yet-to-be developed Negative Emissions Technologies (NETs) for drawing massive amounts of carbon out of the atmosphere. Most scenarios in the report count on NETs sequestering around 250 GtC (gigatons of carbon dioxide) in the 21st century. Studies of the maximum that the proven “natural climate solutions” of afforestation, habitat restoration, and soil regeneration can pull from the atmosphere range between 100 and 150 GtC.
Unfortunately, because IPCC reports must be approved by the major petro-states and carbon emitters like Russia, China, India, Saudi Arabia, Brazil, and the United States, IPCC reports have had a record of underestimating the pace of global warming and understating the emissions reductions required to avoid dangerous climate change.
The IPCC’s report of what is need for a 50/50 chance of avoiding dangerous climate change was not good odds to begin with. Unbiased climate science indicates this 50% assessment was overly optimistic. Even before the 2°C target in the 2009 Copenhagen Accord was adopted, NASA’s James Hansen and colleagues began publishing a serious of scientific papers in 2007 (see references at the end) that show that 2°C will lead to dangerous climate change and that the climate action targets should be 350 ppm and 1°C. Those goals would keep the planet within the temperature range of the interglacial Holocene period in which we live and in which agriculture as the material foundation for human civilization developed over the last 12,000 years.
Hansen’s work prompted the formation of the climate action group 350.org in 2008 by Bill McKibben and others.
Global warming today is already 1°C above pre-industrial levels and we already see adverse impacts in the form of stronger storms, heat waves, droughts, rising seas, arctic ice reductions, disappearing glaciers, accelerating species extinctions, and, ominously, methane venting from undersea methane hydrates and melting tundra. Over the first 20 years, methane warms the planet 86 times more than carbon dioxide.
Hansen et al.’s studies showed that if we reach 450 ppm and 2°C, global warming won’t stop and will lead to warming of 3–4°C due to positive feedback tipping points and climate system inertia. 3°C in paleoclimate record associated with a 25 meter (82 feet) rise of the oceans. Burning all of the proven reserves of fossil fuels would raise global temperatures by up to 9.5°C (17°F) and melt all the ice on the planet, raising the sea level 65-75 meters (more than 300 feet).
To stay within the Holocene temperature range and avoid dangerous climate change, Hansen and colleagues call for a targets of 1°C and 350 ppm by end of century. Because the world was already at 407 ppm in 2018, climate safety requires not only a rapid phase out of fossil fuels by 2030, but also large scale afforestation, habitat restoration, and soil rebuilding through organic regenerative agriculture to draw carbon out of the atmosphere and into the biosphere. This scenario could achieve a peak global warming of 1.1°C and a reduction of atmospheric carbon to below 350 ppm and below 1°C by the end of this century.
Kevin Anderson and his colleagues at the Tyndall Center for Climate Change Research in the U.K. reached similar conclusions as Hansen et al. by 2009. In a 2011 paper on the emissions reduction scenarios needed to avoid dangerous climate change and do so in a way that was equitable between the rich countries responsible for most of the emissions and the poor countries often on the frontlines of dangerous climate impacts, Anderson et al. concluded that the rich countries must cut carbon emissions by about 8-10% per year—and that would only give us a 50% chance of staying below 2°C. They noted that a 5-year delay by rich countries forces a 2% increase in reduction rates globally. By 2018, their research indicated that the whole world had to immediately start cutting carbon emissions by 11% per year to have a 50% chance of keeping global warming below 2°C. That would mean even higher reduction rates by rich countries if climate equity is considered.
The 2030 goal for eliminating carbon emissions in rich countries has become harder since Hansen, Anderson, and others called for it a decade ago. Giving the time that has elapsed since, the rate of reductions has to be accelerated to meet the goal.
We have also known since 2009 that the goal of 100% clean energy was technically and economically feasible from studies done by Mark Jacobson and colleagues. The first was a world study that was reported in Scientific American in November 2009. Jacobson et al. followed that up with a study of New York State that showed that building a 100% clean energy system by 2030 was not only technically feasible, it would provide enormous economic benefits, including 4.5 million construction and manufacturing jobs during the build out and a cutting in half of electric power costs.
My basic point in this section is that, because both the climate science and the technological and economic studies indicate that a 100% carbon-neutral clean energy economy by 2030 is both necessary and feasible, the 100% by 2030 target should be goal of climate legislation adopted this year by New York State.
Halt New Fossil Fuel Infrastructure
The Climate and Community Protection Act says nothing about halting new fossil fuel infrastructure. If New York continues building pipelines and power plants for fracked-gas imported from neighboring states, New York will increase its carbon footprint and lock in carbon emissions for decades to come. A ban on new fossil fuel infrastructure must be part of climate legislation if it is going to achieve 100% clean energy and carbon neutrality by 2030.
Public Energy System
The last point I want to make is that legislators should consider bringing all of New York’s large-scale energy generation and distribution facilities under democratic public ownership and control.
A public energy system would operate at cost for public benefit, not at cost-plus-profits for absentee owners. That will lower the costs of making the energy transition and remove the resistance to planning a rapid energy transition from incumbent investor-owned utilities, generators, and fuel importers.
The investor-owned incumbents have not only failed to lead the transition to clean energy, they have resisted it in the regulatory process. Many of the oil and gas companies have funded climate denial propaganda even though their own scientists informed them to the contrary. Utilities and nuclear plant owners have demanded and received subsidies for failed nuclear investments instead of seeking subsidies to scale up renewable sources of energy and a smart grid to handle the distributed nature of renewable power generation.
New York State already has a statewide New York Power Authority (NYPA), a New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), 49 municipal power utilities, and 4 electric cooperatives. This network of democratically-owned utilities can be the bones on which to build a fully public energy system that will enable effective and democratically accountable planning of a clean energy transition. It would be more democratic than agencies and councils appointed from the top down.
A public energy system need not own every power generator or distribution system. The system should provide for net metering with home- and business-based renewable generators as well as for micro-grids owned by businesses and non-profit institutions.
As an immediate first step, NYPA should be given more authority to build renewable generation facilities.
Exxon, Chevron, and the Koch Industries are not going convert from fossil fuels to renewables. But a public energy system with a state fuel corporation that controls fossil fuel distribution during the transition can ensure that profits from the wholesale distribution of gas, diesel, gasoline, kerosene, and home heating oil in the state is re-invested in renewables instead in more fossil fuel exploration and extraction by the big oil and gas companies.
During the oil crises of the 1970s, public energy systems were widely discussed in the media, in Congress, in state capitols, by the consumer movement, and by the anti-nuclear/safe energy movement. A big issue then was consumer gouging by big oil taking advantage of short supplies during the OPEC oil embargo of 1973-1974 and the aftermath the Iranian revolution in 1979, shortages that many believed big oil was exacerbating to create price gouging opportunities. Building a safe renewable energy system to replace dirty fossil and nuclear fuels was also a motivation for many advocating public power at that time.
I urge legislators to look at the Model State Energy Act drafted by Geoff Faux and Lee Webb and published in the Congressional Record on Dec. 18, 1974 by Sen. Lee Metcalf (D-MT). It provided for a federated state public energy system based on locally-elected Public Energy Districts that in turn elect a state board. Locally-elected energy boards will serve environmental justice better than councils appointed from the top down because disadvantaged communities will be able to elect and hold accountable their own representatives. The public energy system would control the generation and distribution of power and the wholesale distribution of fossil fuels through a State Fuel Corporation. It would plan the state’s energy system at the local and state levels. It would seek to provide equitable and affordable energy rates for all. It would perform research and development services for the energy system. It would employ energy extension agents to provide technical assistance and access to financing for homeowners, businesses, and local governments for energy conservation, efficiency, and conversion to renewable sources. This Model State Energy Act could be adapted to New York to create a public energy system that will enable a more economical, efficient, and democratically-accountable transition to 100% clean energy.
James Hansen et al.
2007: “Dangerous human-made interference with climate: A GISS modelE study,” Atmos. Chem. Phys.
2008: “Target atmospheric CO2: Where should humanity aim?” Open Atmos. Sci. J.
2013: “Assessing ‘dangerous climate change’: Required reduction of carbon emissions to protect young people, future generations and nature,” PLOS ONE.
2016: “Ice melt, sea level rise and superstorms: Evidence from paleoclimate data, climate modeling, and modern observations that 2°C global warming could be dangerous,” Atmos. Chem. Phys.
2017: “Young people's burden: Requirement of negative CO2 emissions,” Earth System Dynamics.
2018: James Hansen, Dec. 18, “Climate Change in a Nutshell: The Gathering Storm,” http://www.columbia.edu/~jeh1/mailings/2018/20181206_Nutshell.pdf
Kevin Anderson et al.
2011: “Beyond ‘dangerous’ climate change: emission scenarios for a new world,” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society.
2018: “What if negative emission technologies fail at scale? Implications of the Paris Agreement for big emitting nations,” Climate Policy.
Mark Jacobson et al.
2009: “A Path to Sustainable Energy by 2030,” Scientific American, November.
2011: “Providing all global energy with wind, water, and solar power,” Energy Policy.
2013: “Examining the feasibility of converting New York State’s all-purpose energy infrastructure to one using wind, water, and sunlight,” Energy Policy.
Origins of the 2°C Target
Carbon Brief, “Two Degrees: The History of Climate Change’s Speed Limit,” Dec. 8, 2014. https://www.carbonbrief.org/two-degrees-the-history-of-climate-changes-speed-limit
Yun Gao et al., “The 2 °C Global Temperature Target and the Evolution of the Long-Term Goal of Addressing Climate Change—From the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to the Paris Agreement,” Engineering, April 2017.