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By Blaine Friedlander
  • Atkinson Center
  • Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
  • Biology
  • Environment
  • Climate
Robert Howarth, the David R. Atkinson Professor of Ecology and Environmental Biology, has been appointed to the new Climate Action Council, an exclusive 22-member group created to bring about New York state’s ambitious path to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions and promote green energy.

The Climate Action Council was created under the New York State Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA), which was signed into law July 18, 2019, and took effect Jan. 1.

Howarth – a fellow at the Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability – is one of three people on the 22-member group appointed by Carl Heastie, speaker of the New York State Assembly. The two other speaker appointees are Peter Iwanowicz, executive director of Environmental Advocates of New York and the former commissioner of state Department of Environmental Conservation; and Paul Shepson, dean of the College of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University.

The CLCPA mandates a 40% reduction in all greenhouse gas emissions across New York state by 2030; an 85% reduction in greenhouse gas reduction by 2050; and 100% renewable electricity production by 2040. The new law will require updated accounting for methane emissions, a strong driver of atmospheric warming. That updated accounting was recommended based on Howarth’s research.

“New York’s climate law is quite progressive. We’re right up there in terms of what any nation in the world is doing,” Howarth said. “It’s very ambitious, and it is what the world needs if we’re going to meet the United Nations’ climate targets of keeping Earth’s atmosphere well below the 2 degrees Celsius rise over pre-industrial average temperature levels.”

Ithaca area Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton, D-125th – a co-sponsor of the CLCPA – recommended Howarth for the council, noting his research has focused on natural gas and the quick impact of methane on warming the planet. This research, she wrote, was critical in understanding that natural gas does not serve as an effective “bridge fuel” and, in fact, contributes to climate change, which influenced New York’s decision to ban hydrofracking.

“[Howarth] is an expert on greenhouse gas accounting,” Lifton wrote, “especially on how to include methane as mandated by the CLCPA, having given hundreds of talks on this subject, including at the U.S. Congress, the White House and European Parliament, as well as to Assembly members and Assembly central staff. His papers are the most cited on this topic in the world.”

Co-chairs of the new council will be Basil Seggos, commissioner of the New York State Department Environmental Conservation, and Alicia Barton, president of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.

Howarth envisions his council role as bringing technical expertise.

“We are going to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40% 10 years from now, and by 85% by 2050,” he said. “That’s great, but how this is done is not really clear to anyone yet. The council’s job is to lay out precisely how to do that.”

This article also appeared in the Cornell Chronicle.

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