Climate change is an existential threat to our society. It poses dangers of a similar magnitude as those from nuclear war and asteroid impact. The impacts and costs of the climate crisis are being experienced now. While the greatest changes caused by climate change may not be felt for several decades, we must act now in order to leave a livable world for our children and grandchildren.
Scientists have stated that to prevent catastrophic societal disruptions, we need to prevent global average temperatures from rising more than 1.5˚C (2.7˚F) above pre-industrial levels. In order to achieve this goal, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that “global net human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) would need to fall by about 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching ‘net zero’ around 2050. This means that any remaining emissions would need to be balanced by removing CO2 from the air [after 2050].”
In recognition of the gravity of the threat posed by climate change, New York State enacted the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (the Climate Act) in 2019 , which aligns state policy with the goals of the Paris Agreement. New York’s CLCPA established “a goal of the state of New York to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from all anthropogenic sources 100% over 1990 levels by the year 2050, with an incremental target of at least a 40 percent reduction in climate pollution by the year 2030….”
In addition to national and state leadership pledging to fight climate change, many residents of New York’s Capital Region have said that they want their municipal leaders to take local action too. Two volunteer groups in the Capital Region— Bethlehem Tomorrow and Capital District Community Energy— collaborated to identify the highest impact actions that municipal governments can take.
An action is included in this roadmap if it:
- is within a municipality’s jurisdiction.
- will remain relevant for several years.
- is economically feasible by municipalities and residents.
- can be achieved or verified by municipal staff given a reasonable amount of training and review time.
Two related topics are important but are not within the scope of this document:
- ecosystem health, such as open space, pesticides, water quality, etc.
- adapting to existing and locked-in future climate change through resiliency measures.
Actions to mitigate climate change
An initial set of recommended actions to reduce atmospheric GHG levels are described in this report.
These actions are organized in four overall strategies that are to be pursued simultaneously:
- Electrification. Direct uses of fossil fuels, such as for heating and transportation, is replaced by use of renewable energy. “Electrification” can also include secondary decarbonized fuels such as hydrogen energy derived from renewable sources.
- Clean energy. Electricity and other forms of energy are derived from renewable energy, such as solar, wind, hydro power, geothermal, and biomass. Nuclear energy is not considered clean energy.
- Energy efficiency. Energy efficiency will reduce energy use in the short and long term and eliminate unnecessary GHG emissions from fossil fuel generation. It will also reduce the amount of renewable energy equipment needed for full electrification based on renewable energy.
- Carbon sequestration. A portion of GHG can be removed from the atmosphere and stored for long periods. This is a supplemental strategy, but cannot replace the first three.
The actions are also divided by end use application areas:
- Buildings (residential, commercial, and industrial).
- Infrastructure, land use, and outdoor lighting.
- Consumption and services. Here, services are those that result in GHG emissions. Municipal services that mitigate climate change are discussed in the Implementation section below.
Each action is described in more detail on the dedicated pages on this site.
For each action, a description, suggested implementation phases, and resources for more information are provided.
These actions are expected to be reviewed, adjusted, and added to on a regular basis.
Resources for identifying additional strategies and actions include:
- New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s Climate Smart Community action list.
- U.S. EPA’s Energy Efficiency in Local Government Operations report
- ACEEE Local Policy Program
- Ithaca, NY’s Green Building Policy includes many practices to emulate. The city has also voted to decarbonize every building they own.
- San Diego, CA is a source of inspiration: they have released the San Diego Regional Decarbonization Framework to outline challenges in the transition to renewable energy.
- New Buildings Institute’s Getting to Zero website that offers tools and resources on zero energy and zero carbon buildings.
- The Urban Sustainability Directors Network suggests high impact actions for municipalities.
- Lancaster, CA’s Better Built Home program.
- The Oberlin Project recommends local policies for sustainability.
- Sustainable Communities Online lists initiatives and resources for local sustainability practices.
- The Doughnut Economics Action Lab gives examples of actions that can be taken to implement the concepts in Kate Raworth’s book, Doughnut Economics.