2020 is going to be an important year for our climate, both globally and regionally. This is the year when national leaders from around the world will come together to evaluate their countries’ progress toward meeting the targets set by the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015. In that agreement, the world’s nations committed to “holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.”
Though 1.5°C of warming would still lead to serious consequences, it would prevent the catastrophic impacts that are expected from 2°C of global temperature rise. Unfortunately, according to the UN Environment Programme’s (UNEP) recent emissions gap report, the 1.5°C goal of the Paris Agreement is “slipping out of reach.” Global emissions continue to rise and we are currently on track to experience 3°C-5°C of temperature rise by the end of this century.
This year, national leaders will have the opportunity to submit more ambitious plans for how they will reduce their share of global emissions, though they are not required to do so. In 2017, President Trump announced that the U.S. would withdraw from the Paris Agreement and in November 2019 he formally began the process of doing so. This withdrawal cannot legally take effect until after the next presidential election, so with that deadline looming, climate is sure to be a hot topic on the campaign trail this year.
For climate progress in our region, 2020 is also a critical year. In June 2019, New York State passed the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, which requires that we achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The process of figuring out how that target will be met will begin this year.
The Greater Rochester Region has the opportunity to get ahead of other regions and take advantage of the benefits that climate action has to offer. It is clear that clean energy jobs are the future and fossil fuels are not a viable energy source over the long term, so now is the time to invest in workforce development and the implementation of climate solutions that will accelerate our region’s transition to a clean energy economy. For example, by improving the energy efficiency of our buildings and replacing our furnaces with heat pumps, we can reduce energy costs and improve public health. Similarly, by creating a transportation system that allows people to get where they need to go without relying on traditional combustion-engine vehicles, we can improve access to jobs, reduce air pollution, and make our communities more vibrant and resilient.
The opportunities are endless, but taking advantage of them will require careful planning, intentional effort, and significant investment of resources. Some municipalities are making progress toward implementing climate solutions, but fully transitioning to a clean energy economy cannot happen without large-scale regional coordination and cross-sector collaboration. In 2020, therefore, the Rochester People’s Climate Coalition will convene a climate-focused collective impact initiative for our nine-county region where this coordination and collaboration can take place. Any business, government, and community leaders who want to be involved in this process should get in touch with us right away.
Abigail McHugh-Grifa is the Executive Director of the Rochester People’s Climate Coalition.