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Erie County Commits to Paris: How Erie County Can Meet US Target Reductions For Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Date: May 7, 2018
Author(s): Mark Poloncarz
Topic(s): Environment: General
Type: Report

“Erie County can take action to ensure its part in protecting the well-being and future of our planet by promulgating a plan to implement the United States target contribution plan to the Paris Agreement, as it pertains to Erie County, and to take such further action as it may by law to enforce the target contribution goals set by the United States within the bounds of the County of Erie, State of New York.”

This statement in Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz’s Executive Order #17 - Enforcement of the Paris Climate Agreement, captures the essence of why Erie County is compelled to take action on this global priority despite a lack of leadership at the federal level.
With other state and local officials across the United States, County Executive Poloncarz seeks to protect our County, as well as our state, nation and world, from the impacts of climate change by committing to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Substantial global emission reductions are needed to mitigate the most severe impacts of climate change, which have been seen recently in frequency and intensity of hurricanes and wildfires. Local impacts have been documented as well. For example, changes in climate have already resulted in a longer growing season and an increase in the tick population in western New York.

As Erie County plans its strategy, there are two other factors to consider regarding climate change. First, the effects of climate change disproportionately impact the poor. For example, during severe heat events, residents who do not have air-conditioning are at more risk of health complications than those who have access to indoor air conditioning. Consideration of vulnerable communities has been a priority of this administration and will also need to be part of the County’s efforts to address this issue.
Second, it has also been widely noted that the efforts which reduce greenhouse gas emissions and thus mitigate climate change have other immediate benefits.

As former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Executive Director of the Sierra Club Carl Pope noted in the introduction of their recent book Climate of Hope: How Cities, Businesses and Citizens Can Save the Planet, “fighting climate change goes hand in hand with improving public health, strengthening economic growth and raising living standards.” For example, transitioning to clean energy reduces emissions, improving air quality and respiratory health. The economic impacts of addressing climate change include reduced energy bills from energy conservation projects, as well as the strong job growth in the renewable energy sector. Therefore, by investing in actions which reduce GHG emissions, the County has the opportunity to also positively impact equity, public health and the economy of the region. In response to the aforementioned Executive Order, the “Erie County Commits to Paris” Working Group was formed to identify strategies for the County to meet the target goals set out by the international climate agreement. This group included Erie County’s Departments of Public Works, Law, Environment & Planning, and the Office of Budget. The Erie County Environmental Management Council, an advisory group to the County, was also a vital member of the group.

The working group was informed by previous work that has been done in the region, such as Erie County’s Initiatives for a Smart Economy 1.0 (2013) and Initiatives for a Smart Economy 2.0 (2017), One Region Forward (2015), the Western New York Regional Sustainability Plan (2013) and the Erie County Environmental Management Council’s annual recommendation reports. In order to prepare this report, the “Erie County Commits to Paris” Working Group reviewed these existing plans and documents, as well as reached out to community stakeholders and experts.