A Mastic Beach house during Sandy
Mastic Beach A Mastic Beach house during Sandy © Tom Fox

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Testimony of Jessica Ottney Mahar Before the Standing Committee on Environmental Conservation Climate Change Hearing

Albany, NY

Thank you for the opportunity to testify before you today on this issue. The Nature Conservancy is enthusiastic about climate mitigation legislation passing in New York State during the 2019 Legislative Session. First and foremost, thank you Assemblyman Englebright for championing this issue and continuing to call for strong action from New York in leading the nation.

While the Trump Administration continues to ignore the urgent need to address climate change, the states are taking action. I have been excited to join colleagues in discussions about our work on climate change across the 50 states and hear about new policies being adopted in many places. For example, Washington state just passed legislation that requires 100 percent clean energy by 2045. In doing so, it joined New Mexico, California and Hawaii with similar laws. Colorado has passed a bill to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions economy wide 90% by 2050. These are just a few examples of important policies being enacted across our country.

Today New York has the chance to act as well, and it cannot be more important that we seize that opportunity.

New York’s opportunity to take comprehensive climate action comes at the time it is needed most. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has determined that there’s no time to waste if we are to avoid the most catastrophic impacts of climate change. The IPCC report released in October 2018i highlights the inadequacy of current efforts to decarbonize the global economy and underscores the urgent need to accelerate action across all sectors and countries if we are to achieve the goals set down in the Paris Agreement.

Earlier this month, the Intergovernmental Panel for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) released its first report detailing past biodiversity losses and prospects for people and natureii. Governments and scientists agree we are exploiting nature faster than it can renew itself. The IPBES report is a shocking wake-up call. The report clearly shows how rapid deterioration of nature threatens our food, water and health, and worsens the impacts of climate change. Achieving economic and development goals, as well as climate goals, will require tackling this accelerating loss of biodiversity.

The Nature Conservancy is working with governments, corporations, non-governmental organizations and financial institutions in New York, across the United States and globally to help bring tangible solutions to the forefront of planning and investment decisions before it is too late. Tackling climate change, protecting land and water, providing food and water sustainably and building healthy cities are core to our work to take on the planet’s biggest, most important challenges by focusing on priorities that science shows are the most urgent and where our innovation and expertise can be game changers.

Here in New York, 2019 is the year to pass nation-leading climate policy. We have a great starting point, with the Community and Climate Protection Act (CCPA), sponsored by Assemblyman Englebright and by Senator Kaminsky. We also have in front of us Governor Cuomo’s Climate Leadership Act (CLA) which was proposed during the state budget process. With proposals by the Assembly, Senate and the Executive, it’s clear there is appetite for action and a pathway to chapter pioneering legislation on climate change mitigation. There are, of course, differences in perspective and approach, which is not unusual in a matter of such significance. We are here today to urge you to not let those differences define the moment.

Instead, we need to collectively seize the moment to negotiate a nationally and globally precedent-setting, progressive and practical bill that can pass both houses and be signed into law by the Governor.

The Nature Conservancy firmly believes there is a clear path forward to an excellent outcome, and we support aspects of both the CCPA and the CLA. We support:

  • Codifying clean energy goals including: 70% renewable energy by 2030 and 100% emissions free energy by 2040;
  • Codifying net-zero greenhouse gas emissions economy-wide for New York.
  • Creating a new climate planning process within the state’s energy planning and decision-making process, and ensuring it includes input from environmental justice, labor, and conservation stakeholders;
  • Substantially increasing funding for clean energy programs to benefit marginalized and frontline communities.

One of the purposes of today’s hearing is what, if any, purpose carbon offsets should play in crafting a policy to address climate change. As stated above, The Nature Conservancy supports an economy-wide goal of net-zero emissions for New York. We support the use of a credit system under limited circumstances and with strict safeguards and accounting. This approach is ruthlessly realistic – it recognizes that we need an audacious and ambitious goal, and it recognizes that we can only achieve that goal if we are both progressive and practical.

Our organization, along with partners, has circulated the attached memo regarding the creation of an economy-wide net-zero emissions program with important limitations. This method captures additional emissions in the reduction program; leverages the power of land-use, agriculture, forestry and conservation to combat climate change; and creates opportunities for valuable additional benefits including water quality improvement, climate adaptation and wildlife habitat. Notably, some of these issues are contemplated in Article 6 of the Paris Climate Accord.

In order to prevent any credit system from shifting the impact of pollution to a community that has been overburdened with pollution, we recommend any proposal:

  • Forbid the use of credits in the electricity sector and for stationary sources in environmental justice communities;
  • Only allow the use of credits for compliance when all other means of greenhouse gas emissions reductions have been deemed technologically or economically unfeasible;
  • Create a transparent proceeding incorporating robust analyses to establish stringent and transparent criteria for any potential greenhouse gas emission reduction crediting regime in New York State, including but not limited to building on the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative’s existing “Real, Surplus, Verifiable, and Permanent” criteria for that power sector carbon program. It must include a robust carbon accounting analysis for any measure included, as well as geographic criteria (including the prohibition in 1 above) so as to prevent any unintended emissions outcomes or local hot spots.

An economy-wide net-zero emissions program in New York with a limited credit program would be the strongest program in the nation, and would ensure that industries for which there is not yet a technologically feasible pathway to zero emissions may remain in our state. Given today’s hearing is also about job transitions and worker protections, it is important to construct a policy that will address climate change in an economically flexible and feasible way, while taking precautions through a strict compliance program to prevent local impacts of pollution.

Thank you again for the opportunity to testify on this important issue. With your leadership, and through your partnership with Senator Kaminsky, Governor Cuomo, and stakeholders, we believe a comprehensive and effective agreement can be reached before the 2019 Legislative Session ends next month, and New York can enact the most progressive and bold climate change mitigation law in the nation.

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in 72 countries, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit www.nature.org or follow @nature_press on Twitter.