Fortune Favors The Bold: Gov. Cuomo Commits New York To Serious Climate Action

When it comes to climate change, these days are not days that call for small measures.

Governor Cuomo clearly gets that, bolstering New York's credentials as a global leader in the fight against climate change in a speech yesterday at Columbia University. There, he pledged New York to a set of important actions designed to move the state further out front as a climate champion, just as other "subnational" governments around the world are stepping up their own clean-energy, carbon-cutting actions in anticipation of the international Paris climate talks this December. (Truth is, states, cities, regions and other subnationals will be key to keeping our climate system relatively intact, as this report and other studies show.)

Former Vice-President Al Gore was on hand, and the room was packed as Governor Cuomo signed the Under 2 MOU. It's a memorandum of understanding that commits New York and 42 other states, provinces, and cities in 19 countries (so far) to lowering their greenhouse gas emissions by 80 to 95 percent below 1990 levels by 2050, the amount scientists tell us is necessary to stave off climate change's worst effects. (This builds on the Governor's speech at New York University last week, in which he took on the climate deniers and the fossil fuel industry, telling the students and the wonks assembled that "denial is not a survival strategy.")

That might not be the biggest news, though. The governor wants to work with other states and provinces, like California and Quebec, to build a broader North American carbon market that would work to shrink our carbon emissions as it creates new jobs and saves consumers some serious money on energy. "Carbon markets are a powerful tool for reducing the pollution that is contributing to climate change," the governor said. He should know: New York plays a central role in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic's Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. It's sharply cut carbon pollution from power plants and now, under the EPA's Clean Power Plan, is working as a model that other states and regions can learn from. All that is excellent progress, to be sure. RGGI's created 22,000 jobs, saved consumers $1.5 billion on our energy bills, and added $2.9 billion to the regional economy over the last six years. But "small regional coalitions are not enough," Cuomo said in his speech yesterday. He talked up something bigger. "Hopefully," he said, this proposed market "will drive a national discussion in every state."

There's more good news, too: New York will deploy solar and other clean energy technologies at every one of the State University of New York's 64 campuses. More clean energy will be installed at New York's other public buildings, too. And while he had Columbia President Lee Bollinger on the stage with him, he challenged private colleges and universities to join in. In addition to these important efforts on campuses, the Governor reaffirmed his strong commitment to cementing New York's status as a solar leader through PV installations on thousands of homes and businesses throughout the state.

For sure, there is much work to be done to ensure that the Governor's bold climate commitments are realized. This includes executing the programs necessary to achieve the ambitious renewable energy, energy efficiency, and economy-wide greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets that the New York State Energy Plan contains. And we must make continued progress in the critical Reforming the Energy Vison initiative to reform the utility business model and the workings of the state's electric grid. NRDC looks forward to working with the Cuomo team, the legislature, and other stakeholders to make sure that that happens.

But even as we roll up our sleeves and dig into the details of how to realize this ambitious vision, it's important to take a moment to celebrate the strong leadership that Governor Cuomo has exhibited in the last week, and during his time in office.

Fortune, you'll recall, favors the bold.