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By Blaine Friedlander
  • Cornell Cooperative Extension
  • School of Integrative Plant Science
  • Soil and Crop Sciences Section
  • Climate
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Four Cornellians have been appointed to three climate advisory panels that will inform the New York State Climate Action Council – a task force established by Gov. Andrew Cuomo – to guide the state and draft a plan toward a zero-carbon economy by the middle of this century.

The council has chosen Lara Skinner, co-executive director of the Worker Institute at the ILR School; Mary Beth McEwen, executive director, ‎Cornell Cooperative Extension of Oneida CountyJulie Suarez, associate dean for land-grant affairs in College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS); and Peter Woodbury, senior research associate in the Soil and Crops Sciences Section of the School of Integrative Plant Science (CALS).

In July of 2019, Cuomo signed the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, the United States’ most aggressive law to create a fully carbon-free statewide economy. Earlier this year, Robert Howarth, the David R. Atkinson Professor of Ecology and Environmental Biology, was appointed to the Climate Action Council, an exclusive 22-member group created to bring the law’s ambitions into reality.

Several working groups will advise the Climate Action Council.

Skinner will serve on the Just Transition Working Group, to ensure an equitable transition from today’s carbon-intensive economy into a renewable energy future for New York’s workforce.

“I’m very excited that we [Cornell] are represented in this working group,” Skinner said.

“Now the hard work happens as we figure out how we make New York’s ambitious Climate Act real, and do it in a way that protects working people and supports the creation of high-quality family- and community-sustaining jobs in the new clean-energy economy. I am excited to be able to lend my expertise.”

McEwen will serve on the Climate Justice Working Group, which will assure that as the state moves toward a greener economy, all New Yorkers will reap the economic and environmental benefits of the transition.

The Climate Act requires that the state invest in, or offer direct resources for, disadvantaged communities so they receive 35% to 40% of overall benefits of spending on programs promoting clean energy and energy efficiency. This includes projects related to workforce development, housing, pollution reduction, low-income energy assistance, energy, transportation and economic development.

The Climate Justice Working Group will hold its next meeting Oct. 1.

Suarez and Woodbury will serve on the Agriculture and Forestry Advisory Panel. The group will identify greenhouse gas emissions for the agricultural sector and make recommendations for reductions – taking into account climate justice and business impacts.

This panel also will examine land use throughout the state to learn whether some areas can be used for carbon dioxide mitigation and sequestration. On Oct. 1, Woodbury will present analysis, done with research support specialist Jenifer Wightman, on opportunities for and barriers to supporting climate adaptation and mitigation practices on the state’s current and former agricultural lands.  It is a public meeting starting at 1 p.m. (see the Climate Action Council’s website).

Ultimately, the Climate Action Council will develop a “scoping plan” – a strategic road map – for reducing the state’s greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2030, from 1990 levels; and no less than 85% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels by 2050;  as well as 100% carbon-free electricity  by 2040.  

The governor and state agencies are relying on the depth of expertise within New York state, Suarez said.

“Complying with the law’s mandates requires an active and engaged scientific community, and we have so many brilliant people engaged in scholarship in so many diverse disciplines,” she said. “It’s wonderful that New York state relies on our Cornell scholarship and our land-grant expertise, as we try to solve the hardest environmental challenge of our generation and for generations to come.”

This article also appeared in the Cornell Chronicle.

Header image: Photo by Markus Spiske from Pexels

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