NC Calls It A Wrap On Climate Commission

Guest Blog | May 26, 2010 | Climate Change, Energy Policy

ncstateflagAfter five long years of presentations, deliberation, and multiple extensions, the North Carolina Legislative Commission on Global Climate Change (otherwise known as the NC LCGCC or “Climate Commission”) finally closed its doors on Thursday, May 6, 2010 in Raleigh with majority approval of a 189-page final report.  SACE’s Executive Director, Stephen Smith, was appointed as an original Ex Officio Commission member from its creation in 2005 (although the first meeting was Feb. 3, 2006).

At the outset of the NC LCGCC process, a parallel group called the Climate Action Planning Advisory Group (CAPAG), was initiated to study the sources of all greenhouse gas emissions in the state and identify policy measures that could mitigate NC’s contribution to climate change.  The CAPAG process was facilitated by the Center for Climate Strategies.  CAPAG measures formed the bulk of the Interim Recommendations of the NC LCGCC that were voted and approved by members of the Commission in February of 2007.  CAPAG’s final report and recommendations were submitted to the NC LCGCC for consideration in October of 2007.

The Climate Commission was a less technically focused body, considering larger themes of climate science and dissenting opinions about the causes and implications of climate change to the state.  Over the years, the Commission heard from a diverse selection of presenters on a myriad of topics. Just a few examples of presenters include:

Dr. Patrick J. Michaels, Research Professor and State Climatologist, out of Charlottesville, Virginia (a known climate-skeptic), juxtaposed by then-Dean of Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment, Dr. William Schlesinger, (ardent climate educator) on the state of climate science.

Rajendra Pachauri, Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and Director General of the Energy and Resources Institute, presented on the latest IPCC report findings and relevancy to the NC Climate Commission.  It should be noted that Pachauri’s presentation spurred one of the few spontaneous votes of the Commission in which the members adopted the resolution: “1. Climate change is real, 2. Human activity is a factor in that change, and 3. The Commission should move forward to address the issues faced by the state.

The final report of the Commission was approved by a majority of the members, however there were dissenting opinions present and were reflected as such in the report:

“While the Commission attempted to find common ground on climate change issues, in other cases the position taken by some Commission members was irreconcilable with the position taken by the majority of the Commission members. As an example, a portion of the Commission’s membership did not feel that there was a need for the State to take further action on climate change at this time.”

The report includes Commission Proceedings, which cover reviews of climate science heard throughout the Commission’s tenure as well as potential impacts of climate change, economic implications of climate change, actions taken in NC and in other states and federally, as well as some policy options heard by Commission members. The most contentious elements of the report include the Findings section (the Commission generally endorsed some of the findings contained in the U.S. Global Change Research Program’s 2009 publication “Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States”), the Recommendations for Future Consideration, and the Legislative Proposals, which elicited lively debate among members in the final meetings of the Commission.

A few other key Findings (start on p. 92 of the final report) include:

5. Full adoption and implementation of the CAPAG recommendations was estimated to reduce gross greenhouse gas emissions by approximately 47% from 256 million metric tons of CO2e in the reference case forecast to 137 million metric tons of CO2e by 2020, or within 1 percent of 1990 levels.
6. Most of the LCGCC recommendations adopted in 2007 and many of the CAPAG recommendations have been implemented at some level, and the framework for implementing others is in place.
7. The General Assembly is justified in taking further action aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, increasing sequestration to sinks, promoting economic opportunities afforded by climate change, and preparing to adapt to the effects of climate change.

14. Greenhouse gas emissions in the State in 1990 were approximately 54 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e), and are expected to increase to about 98 Million metric tons by 2020, or by approximately 83 percent on a consumption basis.
15. North Carolina’s annual CO2 emissions are increasing faster than those of any other state except Arizona.

19. The North Carolina Coastal Resources Commission’s Science Panel on Coastal Hazards predicted that by 2100, North Carolina will experience sea level rise of 0.4 – 1.4 meters (15 – 55 inches) with a likely rise of 1 meter (39 inches). The Panel recommends “that a rise of 1 meter (39 inches) be adopted as the amount of anticipated rise by 2100, for policy development and planning purposes.”

27. Coal is the most carbon intensive fuel and the dominant source of North Carolina’s electricity, comprising approximately (59%) of all electricity generated in the State in 1990, and is projected to produce as much as 54% of the electricity generated in the State in 2020.

30. North Carolina imports virtually all of its energy, exporting from the State economy over $12 billion per year for petroleum, natural gas, coal, and nuclear material.

35. Energy efficiency represents the least-cost opportunity to generate additional electricity cost-effectively, with little or no additional greenhouse gas emissions.

Recommendations for Future Considerations (p. 104) included a suite of ideas in the categories of Adaptation, Energy Efficiency and Conservation, Electricity and Power Generation, Development and Transportation, Building Practices and Standards, Greenhouse Gas Reduction Plan and Emissions Tracking, Agriculture/Forestry/Offsets, Cross-Cutting Issues/Education/Outreach.  Seven Legislative Proposals were offered to the General Assembly for consideration as well.

Ex Officio Member of the Commission, Dr. Dee Eggers, Environmental Studies Professor at the University of North Carolina, Asheville reflected on the conclusion of the Commission:

We have a final report identifying many of the impacts considered by the best science to be most likely to occur during the next 100 years.  The report also provides a variety of recommendations that, if acted on, will be protective of the state’s economy, the health of North Carolinians, and our environment.  In fact, there are significant economic opportunities associated with adapting to and mitigating climate change, as well as actions that will significantly improve people’s quality of life. Many of the actions recommended in the final report are things we should already be doing like improving building energy efficiency, better land use planning, restoring the quality of our degraded soils, better preparation for flooding, and developing alternative energy resources.

Fortunately, the end product of this report is a milestone for the state of North Carolina to have come through so much material, so much consideration, and ultimately produce ahouses_onedgeofbeach_gw report with a fairly comprehensive set of findings, recommendations, and suggested legislation.  While it is disappointing on one hand that the Commission didn’t accomplish more (some call it a “pale shadow of where we should have gotten to…”), we are pleased that we have this final report as a backstop for future decisions the state will make on climate and energy issues.

Although it didn’t pass unanimously, the final report passed with a majority – a majority that we think represents the direction the people of North Carolina want our leadership to go in.  We have much at stake in North Carolina from inaction on climate change – from the high elevation spruce fir habitats of the mountains to the treasured Outer Banks – we must take the momentum that is created now and move forward quickly.

Some members of the Commission feel that it was at least partially the work of this body that created momentum and prompted the General Assembly to pass the 2007 Senate Bill 3, the Renewable and Efficiency Portfolio Standard (REPS), creating the first renewable energy and efficiency law in the Southeast U.S.  A renewable standard was a recommendation in the Interim recommendations of both the NC LCGCC and the CAPAG.  A few other new state laws also have connection back to the activities of the Climate Commission.  Last summer, a bill entitled “Energy-Efficient State Motor Vehicle Fleet” (H1079/S.L. 2009) passed, which requires the Department of Administration, when purchasing new passenger vehicles, to give preference to new passenger vehicles that have a fuel economy that is in the top 15% of that class of comparable automobiles.

So, what’s next for the state on climate?  The newly formed Governor’s Energy Policy Council is another state initiative that will be offering very specific recommendations to the General Assembly for consideration in the long session of 2011.  Some short term recommendations have already been offered for this year’s short session – many of which overlapped with the high level recommendations of the NC LCGCC.  We are hopeful that this group, which has proven to be a fast-moving and thoughtful body, will drive some important new initiatives such as specific state energy efficiency requirements separate from the REPS.  In addition, one of the final NC LCGCC recommendations is to create a permanent Climate Commission for the state that would be responsible for consideration of future climate-related issues affecting the state.

Dr. Eggers:

I hope many local governments will use the final report as justification for all kinds of projects, not only because the state legislature is focused on the current financial crisis, but also because several of the recommendations could be quite effectively carried out at the local government level, where leadership and understanding of local needs and resources is stronger.

Southern Alliance for Clean Energy would like to thank all of our allies and friends on the Commission and their staff who were so dedicated over the years to this important state initiative.  It certainly required endurance and patience, as well as willingness to collaborate, share, and take initiative.  Thank you all for the partnership, and I’d like to dedicate this post to our colleague, friend, and member of the Commission who passed on last year, Jim Stephenson of the NC Coastal Federation.

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