ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) – New York has put a lot of time and effort into initiatives and laws to combat climate change. In the absence of federal laws, the state has become a leader with ambitious goals, including moving to 100% green energy and zero emissions.
Since taking office, Governor Kathy Hochul has made it clear she’s made climate change in the state a priority. In September, she signed a law requiring all new cars and trucks sold in the state to be zero-emission by 2035; said she wants to triple New York’s solar energy capacity in the next 10 years; and along with nine other governors sent a letter to federal legislators urging them to take bold action against climate change.
Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos recently got back from the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26). He said it was inspiring to see the global community focused on how to tackle climate change and said he was honored to have been sent there by Gov. Hochul.
“The chance to attend this summit, which really was probably the most important summit on climate ever, at this time in history with other world leaders, other state leaders, innovators, NGO’s (non-governmental organization) represented, it was an honor, and it was an opportunity for us to carry New York’s banner. And that’s really important, it’s important for us to be there,” Seggos said.
Because New York has been working on climate change initiatives for some time, Seggos said it puts the state in a good place to help other governments across the globe implement their own initiatives and share its experiences. He said that as a part of the U.S. Climate Alliance, New York has a head start on meeting goals set by the Paris Agreement.
The U.S. Climate Alliance was created after former president Donald Trump pulled out of the Paris Agreement. A group of states came together to brainstorm how to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement and act. Part of the goal of the agreement is to significantly reduce greenhouse gases and limit global warming to two degrees Celsius within the century, according to the United Nations website.
Shortly after he was elected President, Joe Biden announced the U.S. was rejoining the Paris Agreement. Seggos said he feels the summit fell short considering the work that needs to be done to meet the Paris Agreements’ goals, but he understands they’ve had a leg up.
“New York, we’re not just the Empire State, but we’re the 10th largest economy in the world,” said Seggos. “So, we go to COP26 and speak with some gravitas having had to navigate through all the very tricky questions about transitioning jobs and protecting our economy, while at the same time investing in the community.”
The leaders from around the globe combined with the thousands of activists marching outside the summit created a sense of optimism, Seggos said. He said the activists helped bolster the feeling that leaders have the support of the people, and that they can accomplish what is needed. He also said he would like to see more activists at the table at the next summit.
“I was impressed with the turnout of general activists from youth, indigenous activists, frontlines advocates, and climate justice advocates,” said Seggos. “It was a really impressive turnout in the streets and around COP, but by and large those voices were not at the negotiation table either, much like the subnational states and provinces.”
Seggos goes on to say that bringing those voices to the table of the next conference, slated to be held next year – rather than in five years – will be one of the biggest challenges. He believes working with activists has enabled New York to get where it is today in terms of climate change policy. “I think that was my surprise at the COP conference, was just that those voices were largely present but on the sidelines,” he said.
There was story after story about how climate change has affected other parts of the world. Seggos said he spoke with some individuals from Canada who said a warmer climate has made it more difficult for its indigenous peoples to hunt and trap. New York has had its own problems, like the flooding and destruction from Superstorm Sandy.
“I heard very sincerely and vociferously that the participants of the summit were not going to give up, no matter what they accomplished at the summit or what they didn’t accomplish at the summit,” Seggos said. “That they would stay on the case. For me, that was a very positive takeaway and gives me a sense of optimism, even if the world leaders didn’t agree on what we need. There’s an incredible amount of momentum right now.”