North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper Wants State to Reach Net-Zero Emissions by 2050

In an executive order signed Friday, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper set a goal for the state to reach net-zero emissions no later than 2050.

The order, which Cooper signed on the North Carolina A&T State University campus, sets statewide goals regarding greenhouse gas reductions that include an earlier 2030 deadline to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent.

"This is an important day for our state," Cooper said during a news conference. "I am excited to see the new green energy jobs.…I do recognize that there is a lot more to do, but I believe it's important to help establish a framework for all of us to succeed."

Cooper's order aims to build upon environmental successes made in the state Legislature during his time as governor, including legislation that restricts power plant pollution over the next thirty years, which was related to a clean energy order Cooper signed in 2018 and a plan created partly with outside groups and advocates.

That 2018 clean energy order established a goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by 2025.

Under the new order, the state's Department of Transportation is mandated to create a "Clean Transportation Plan" to decrease carbon emissions by reducing miles traveled on roads, increasing the number of emission-free vehicles and creating other initiatives. The department has until spring 2023 to complete the plan.

Roy Cooper, Clean Energy Executive Order
Under North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper's new order, the state's Department of Transportation is mandated to create a “Clean Transportation Plan” to decrease carbon emissions. In this photo, Cooper speaks during Get Out the Vote at The Fillmore Charlotte on November 6, 2016, in Charlotte, North Carolina. Jeff Hahne/Getty Images

While the 2018 order strives to have at least 80,000 registered electric and other zero-emission vehicles by 2025, the latest order seeks 1.25 million such vehicles registered by 2030. The sharp uptick in this goal coincides with an effort by automakers to shift away from internal combustion engines.

Cooper's announcement also comes a month after Toyota announced it would build its first North American battery plant for electric vehicles in the state's Randolph County, with a goal of generating more than 3,800 jobs.

Friday's order also directs the governor's cabinet agencies to consider environmental justice challenges when making decisions related to climate change, such as how the decisions will affect minority residents and the poor, and to examine the "social cost" of emissions. Each agency also will assign someone to environmental justice responsibilities.

"I am pleased that it will increase the likelihood that all North Carolinians are able to live in vibrant communities and pursue employment in workplaces free of environmental risks," James Johnson, chair of the Department of Environmental Quality's Environmental Justice and Equity Board, said in a news release.

A state law signed by Cooper in October directs the state's power plants to reduce carbon dioxide output 70% from 2005 levels by 2030, and achieve zero-net CO2 emissions by 2050. Coal-fired power plants operated by Duke Energy, the state's dominant utility, are expected to be retired early as a result.

Several environmental groups, including some that were lukewarm to the power plant law because they felt it wasn't strong enough, lined up Friday to praise the governor's latest order, particularly on the environmental justice actions.

The order "is an important signal that North Carolina is sharpening its focus on addressing climate change and creating a more equitable clean energy future," said David Kelly, North Carolina state director of the Environmental Defense Fund.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.