DAVID KELLY: Turn North Carolina's climate goals into action

Posted February 2, 2021 5:00 a.m. EST

Wind turbines near Livermore, Calif., April 10, 2020. (Max Whittaker/The New York Times)

EDITOR'S NOTE: David Kelly is the Environmental Defense Fund's senior manager for political affairs in North Carolina.

Gov.r Roy Cooper took more deliberate steps to address climate change during his first term in office than any of his predecessors. He issued Executive Order 80, setting the state’s first greenhouse gas reduction goals. He commissioned a Clean Energy Plan and the Climate Risk Assessment & Resilience Plan. He hired the state’s first ever Chief Resilience Officer.

North Carolinians, increasingly attuned to the effects of climate change, expressed their gratitude through their votes in this past election. Gov. Cooper enters his second term with high expectations and voters anticipating that he will swiftly turn good plans into concrete action.

The Clean Energy Plan set a science-based goal of reducing climate pollution from North Carolina’s electric power sector to 70 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, on the way to zeroing out climate pollution by 2050. These goals are consistent with the scientific consensus on the kind of progress necessary to spare our communities, businesses, families, and environment the worst consequences of our changing climate.

With the election over, it’s time for Gov. Cooper to take action on these important goals by implementing concrete requirements that our electric utilities deliver the energy we need without the pollution that’s destabilizing our climate, threatening our health, and putting the future of North Carolina families and businesses at risk.

A new report confirms that time is of the essence in tackling climate pollution, and highlights the risks and costs of inaction for North Carolina’s communities and key industries. The analysis shows how, without urgent action, impacts from sea level rise, strong storms, flooding, extreme heat - and more - will continue to worsen. Virtually no part of our state or economy will be untouched.

At the coast, for example, more than 1,300 residential and commercial properties -- valued at almost $340 million -- are at risk of chronic flooding. By 2045, with no climate action, this estimate jumps to almost 15,600 properties, valued at nearly $4 billion.

Emergency room visits due to heat-related conditions and illnesses are projected to increase two to threefold from 2010 to 2050. These impacts, which already hurt people and property every year, will take an increasingly higher financial toll, devastating our state’s agricultural and fishing industries, damaging energy and transportation infrastructure, increasing medical expenses, insurance rates, and more.

North Carolinians know first hand the costs in terms of lives and livelihoods that heavy rainfall and flooding from increasingly frequent and intensifying storm systems and hurricanes are bringing to communities across our state. Against the backdrop of this lived experience, the escalating costs of inaction help make clear that reducing climate pollution is really about protecting people and preparing our economy for the long term.

Smart policy approaches will create new opportunities for growth. Clean energy businesses, for example, are already bringing investment to our state and providing thousands of good paying jobs. Our state’s leadership in solar energy is widely recognized, and a new SMART-POWER partnership the state is embarking on with Virginia and Maryland is poised to attract additional jobs and new economic investment from the emerging offshore wind energy industry.

It’s clear that we have the tools, the talent, the knowhow. What we need is a policy framework to take it to scale and deliver a better future for North Carolina families, businesses and communities.

In tackling the enormous challenge of climate change, we must also work to usher in a more just and equitable future for our fellow North Carolinians living in communities that for too long have been unfairly and disproportionately burdened by pollution. Achieving climate and environmental justice is crucial as we come together to rebuild smarter and forge a more resilient, healthier and more sustainable future in which all North Carolinians can thrive.

Action in North Carolina alone can’t solve this global challenge, but it’s important that we strive to do our part and in so doing reap the benefits of the economic security such action can provide. In his first term,

Gov. Cooper placed the wellbeing of all North Carolinians at the center of rich stakeholder discussions about real policy solutions on climate change. Now, his second term must be centered on delivering concrete outcomes.

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