In light of the recently released UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report Global Warming of 1.5° C and its stern warning that limiting global warming to 1.5° C would require rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society, RPA commits to using its organizational strengths to research, plan and advocate for a region that achieves this necessary goal. At the same time, even if all nations of the world were to achieve this ambitious target, we are already locked in to the impacts of climate change and must adapt.
So what can our region do to respond to this urgent call to action? Our Fourth Plan provides a pathway to a more sustainable region that adapts to the impacts of climate change.
We need to stop emitting greenhouse gases from automobiles
The IPCC report says that we must reduce our emissions of warming greenhouse gases to zero by 2050 to avoid more catastrophic climate change impacts. The majority of greenhouse gases in our region (close to half) come from the transportation sector, yet the region’s greenhouse gas cap-and-invest market – RGGI – only aims to reduce one greenhouse gas (CO2) from one sector (power generation).
This is why the Fourth Plan recommends following California’s lead to institute an economy-wide price on all greenhouse gases. We no longer have the luxury of simply regulating the easiest greenhouse gas from the easiest sector. Tackling greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector must be made a priority. This past summer, RPA and the New Jersey Climate Adaptation Alliance (which is facilitated by the Rutgers Climate Institute and the Rutgers Bloustein School) partnered with the Transportation and Climate Initiative to host a regional listening session focused on strategies for reducing carbon emissions from the transportation sector. The ideas generated from this and other sessions need to be explored and implemented by the 12 participating states and DC.
Pricing emissions from vehicles is just one idea to lower this region’s share of auto-related greenhouse gases. Promoting the proliferation of electric vehicles, implementing congestion pricing, improving regional public transportation, rebuilding NYC’s subways are each necessary steps that will reduce the number of vehicles on the road while ensuring that those that remain are clean.
We need to dramatically scale up renewable energy
The power sector, while emitting fewer greenhouse gases than before, is still responsible for a significant chunk of our region’s overall output. The shift to natural gas – along with caps established by RGGI – has helped our region to become less polluting, but much of our power is still fossil-fuel based – and far too little renewable – ultimately an unacceptable scenario given the challenges we face and particularly if we are successful at electrifying autos and buildings.
The Fourth Plan sets a goal of 50% renewables for our region by 2030 by dramatically scaling up options including offshore wind, solar and expanded storage. Each of the three states of the region are committed to different levels of clean energy by 2050, but we’ve got a long way to go: Currently, New York gets about 23% of its energy from renewable sources; New Jersey about 5% and Connecticut less than 5%. Perhaps the greatest opportunity for our three coastal states is the promise of offshore wind. And if the states work together, the boon of energy production offshore can lead to a boom of economic activity in our communities.
We must adapt
The impacts of climate change – extreme heat, sea level rise, and more frequent and intense storms – are upon us and they are getting worse. The world may take the dramatic steps required to limit warming to 1.5° C and we will still need to deal with the consequences of a warmer planet. Put simply, we must adapt.
The Fourth Plan laid out a comprehensive adaptation strategy for our region and states and municipalities should act to implement the ideas within. First, we must adapt to our changing coastline, protecting the dense centers of population, jobs and infrastructure, while beginning the transition away from those places we ultimately cannot protect. A climate resilience park in the Meadowlands will provide flood absorption services to the entire region, while enhancing a destination that allows us to connect with nature and learn about the impacts of climate change up close. And, as the US Army Corps of Engineers considers federal investments in big solutions around resilience for NY Harbor and its tributaries, RPA urges a comprehensive review of the impacts and benefits of a regional surge barrier so that we can make the right decision about whether this large-scale measure is necessary.
Recognizing the value of nature in addressing the impacts of climate change, the Fourth Plan promotes the concept of bringing nature into our communities. Natural systems will help us to cool our communities, capture stormwater from more intense storms and ensure the health and longevity of our vital estuarine ecosystems, even in the face of sea level rise.
If we take all the steps to adapt our region described above and prioritize the protection of open space in ways that help us to adapt while investing to make our infrastructure more resilient, our region can withstand the changes that are coming. But we can’t take these steps with the current governance structure along our coastline, nor do we have the funding to make such large and important investments.
The IPCC report issued earlier this month is unnerving. Reducing global emissions to zero by 2050 is daunting, but not impossible. Our reaction to this report should be a stirring call to action. We must take dramatic steps to eliminate our greenhouse gas emissions and we must also adapt our communities to the realities we will be living with. We can do this, but we must act now.