Cuomo’s Climate Change Opportunity

By THE EDITORIAL BOARD

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has four more years as governor of New York. He also has a Democratic legislature to work with for the first time. Through his first eight years in office, he’s lived up to his pragmatic progressive self-label of “broke progressive.” Now he has an opportunity to put a lasting stamp on the state’s legacy, and we feel he should spend all his political capital and effort on combating climate change and persuading the people that this is necessary for our future success.

This is going to require immense political courage. Tackling this issue is going to likely be met with endless criticism from business sectors. If he goes all in on the topic, he will become a target of the political right. Furthermore, in order to have the impact necessary, he will need to increase taxes as well as cut the budget in other areas.

One way the governor can lead on this issue is by putting aside his protracted political tiff with Mayor Bill de Blasio on funding and fixing New York City’s subways. Subways need to perform better so people stop using their cars. And there need to be further measures taken to force the millions of people who live in the city’s metro area to stop relying so heavily on personal vehicles. Congestion pricing is one option, but it’s not a silver bullet. There need to be more creative alternatives, not just an additional hit to people’s wallets. We are talking about expanding the use of ferries, smarter use of buses, an embrace of ridesharing or an expansion of electric vehicle cabs — even an increase in bike shares or possibly even electric scooters. All options should be on the table, as long as they reduce our carbon footprint.

Let’s be clear: Gov. Cuomo already has a strong record on combating climate change, setting ambitious goals for cutting emissions, and implementing policies to try to preserve our environment. The problem is that it just isn’t enough when the White House is controlled by an administration that doesn’t believe in the threats facing our world and has actively tried to block scientific review of our changing world. Cuomo is up against political power that suggests that they won’t believe climate change is a problem until they see proof — which for them seems to be the planet literally on fire, decades after our coral reefs have all died, and tens of millions have been forced from their homes near the coast because of rising sea levels.

Cuomo has been a relatively cautious politician while in office. Yet when he thinks something is right and he thinks it is the right moment, he hasn’t hesitated in pushing all his chips into the pot. This is what he did with the SAFE Act. In the wake of the tragic Newtown, Connecticut, shooting, he forced through a gun safety bill. It wasn’t perfect, but it was progress. It was bold leadership that alienated him from thousands of voters who will never forgive him. It was a classic example of spending political capital for something he believed was right.

This is another one of those moments. The recent report from the United Nations just confirms what people have been saying for years. Yet it’s a convenient moment that has been created to push his chips all in on this issue.

This provides the perfect opportunity, with the lack of leadership and fundamental disdain for facts surrounding climate-change issues of this White House. Governor Cuomo should convene the world leaders in New York and go beyond Paris 2020. With control in both houses, New York could implement the most-stringent climate-control regulations in the world, which could have an immediate impact.

If it is not Cuomo, then we can hope another politician champions this issue. But there is no one better situated to lead this fight. As governor of New York, Cuomo can impact the global markets through state legislation and executive actions. If New York were its own country, its economy would be roughly 13th in the world. That’s on par with Brazil or Mexico. If either of those countries made a full-throated commitment to combating climate change, it surely would have an impact on the world — but New York would have even more of an impact because it is a center for financial services and research, and is also the most diverse city in the world. Great ideas coming out of New York can filter out to countries in all corners of the globe. Leadership out of New York can shape minds and change beliefs in South America, Africa and Asia.

In the time of Trump, governors and mayors need to lead on this issue. California Governor Jerry Brown has already stepped up, signing a bill committing the state to carbon-free power by 2045. This is the most ambitious proposal out there — yet the most cynical scientists will tell you that this is likely not even good enough to prevent the coming disasters of climate change, from droughts and food shortages to epic floods, fierce hurricanes, the dying-off of insects and the decline of our coral reefs. Cuomo should at least join Brown in his pledge. Better still would be to develop an even more ambitious plan. Pass it in New York, and then embark on a global effort to find other supporters.

We know he doesn’t like to leave the state, but for this issue we think he will get a pass.

Cuomo has four more years. If he doesn’t take the lead on the issue of climate change, then the world as we know it may only have 40 more years.