Global Warming: New York Sets a Good Example to the World

1123_Pollution New York Climate Change
Vehicles drive past a carbon counting sign on the Deutsche Bank building in New York June 18, 2009. Eric Thayer/Reuters

Nobel prize-winning author Albert Schweitzer once wrote that “Example is not the main thing in influencing others—it is the only thing.

This truth is crucial to keep in mind as world leaders prepare to assemble in Paris this December to negotiate a new agreement to tackle global warming.

Global warming is a worldwide problem. To prevent the most damaging consequences of warming, every country on Earth —and in particular the world’s largest economies—must join together and act.

Our example is the best way that New York can contribute. In other words, the path to a successful Paris climate conference starts with concrete action to cut pollution here in New York.

The good news, according to an Environment New York Research & Policy Center report, is that New York is already leading by example. In the next decade, the state will cut as much global warming pollution as the  equivalent emission from 19,000,000 passenger cars.

The report, Path to the Paris Climate Conference, documents expected carbon pollution reductions from existing state-level and federal policies by 2025, including renewable energy standards, fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks and regional and state-based carbon caps. Nationwide, state and federal policies now underway can reduce carbon pollution 27 percent below 2005 levels.

That’s significant. It is as much pollution as the entire nation of Germany—the world’s sixth largest polluter—produces every year.

The biggest slice of these reductions will come from the Clean Power Plan, the federal limits on carbon pollution from power plants. The plan requires power plant owners to reduce emissions by 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. This may be accomplished by accelerating the transition to clean energy sources such as wind and solar.

However, fossil fuel interests and their allies in Congress are trying to block the Clean Power Plan. On November 17, the Senate voted to block the Clean Power Plan. The House is likely to do the same when they take up the measure. There’s also an ongoing legal battle, with New York Attorney General Schneiderman leading the charge to support climate action.

Some in Congress have complained that the Clean Power Plan puts us out in front of the rest of the world—when that is the very point of the policy. The Clean Power Plan is fundamental to our ability to inspire the world to act. Elected officials at all levels of government should stand up for the Clean Power Plan and ensure its successful implementation.

Moreover, the Clean Power Plan is a floor for action—not a ceiling. States can and should do more to reduce global warming pollution beyond minimum federal requirements. For example, in New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo has pledged to cut emissions economy-wide by 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030—demonstrating to the world what is possible.

Pope Francis wrote in his recent Encyclical that global warming is “one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day.” One of the world’s leading public health journals has called climate change a “medical emergency.” The hottest year in recorded history was 2014. So far, 2015 is shaping up to be even hotter. All across the country, climate change is amping up weather extremes, contributing to drought, heat waves, forest fires, flooding and rising sea levels.

The truth is that the world’s collective ambitions on global warming are not yet enough to prevent the worst impacts of warming. We need the Paris conference to raise the bar for action.

The best way to lead is by showing others the way. So let’s pave the path to a successful Paris climate conference by continuing to cut pollution—and keep raising the bar for even higher ambitions—here in New York.

Heather Leibowitz is the director of Environment New York, a statewide environmental advocacy organization.