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Themes of the Climate Reality Leadership Training in New York

New York City
April 12 – 14, 2024

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The world knows New York City as a global leader in culture, business, and finance as well as one of the most vibrant and diverse cities on the planet. But increasingly extreme weather and climate events threaten all of those things. Heavier downpours now seem to regularly flood subways, homes, businesses, and other critical infrastructure. Increasingly high temperatures endanger more and more of the city’s millions of residents. Sea-level rise and storm surge flooding pose a significant risk to large swaths of New York and much of the East Coast from Maine to DC. The clock is ticking and the time for action is now.

Increasingly, New York state is at the forefront of sustainability and climate action. Landmark laws like the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA), the Build Public Renewables Act, and its latest Environmental Justice Law (EJL) are showing cities and states worldwide how they can tackle the climate crisis and create better lives for residents by slashing emissions, speeding electrification, and advancing environmental justice without sacrificing economic prosperity. As the world’s preeminent financial center, what happens in New York can be key to expanding global climate financing initiatives, which are absolutely essential to addressing the climate crisis.

These factors and the city’s proximity to numerous Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states and cities tackling emissions and embracing climate policies of their own make New York an ideal place to bring together climate leaders from across the eastern US and beyond to build a powerful movement for change.

That’s why, this April, we’re holding a Climate Reality Leadership Corps training in New York City with former US Vice President Al Gore and community leaders from Maine to West Virginia.  Join us to learn more about effective climate policies and best practices, explore the road to a true net zero future and how we get there, strengthen key advocacy and organizing skills, and join a global network of activists working for urgent and practical solutions.

I. Financing a Net Zero Future  

Changing how we produce and use energy and accelerating the shift from fossil fuels to clean energy will require transforming many of our financial systems and government programs.

The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) and Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) offer significant funding opportunities for households, communities, and organizations, but can be difficult to navigate. Despite extensive outreach, many municipalities and individuals are still unaware of how to access electrification incentives or require assistance to translate technical jargon and navigate complicated grant applications. Along with the IRA's many consumer-focused incentives, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) offers numerous funding opportunities for environmental and climate justice projects through initiatives like the Environmental Justice Thriving Communities Grantmaking Program. EPA is also working to raise awareness and disperse funds through webinars, tools, and systems of support via the Environmental Justice Thriving Communities Technical Assistance Centers (EJ TCTAC) Program.

State-level green banks can play a key part in funding a just energy transition across the region. These financial institutions can help households and communities leverage financing for energy upgrades like solar panels, electric heating and cooling, and clean transportation. Green banks can also play a part in advancing equity, broadly speaking. In June 2023, Massachusetts launched the country’s first green bank dedicated to affordable housing, the Massachusetts Community Climate Bank, underscoring the connection between financing, a just transition, and housing.

Home to Wall Street and many major asset managers, New York City is the geographic center to the conversation around private climate financing and fossil fuel divestment. Backtracking on net zero commitments must be called out. The Securities and Exchange Commision’s (SEC) proposed Climate Disclosure Rule may be an important step in uncovering corporate greenwashing by requiring companies to report their emissions, but collective public pressure is also needed. Together, we must call for corporate giants to turn their sustainability promises into true action, and on big banks and insurance companies to further invest in climate-friendly business practices and turn away from financing fossil fuel expansion.

Dedicated financing for mitigation and adaptation will be critical to building resilient communities across the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic. With extreme and worsening climate impacts and limited adaptation funding, there will likely be stiff competition and differing priorities between federal agencies, states, and local communities. Still lacking, however, is clarity on the ways that funding will trickle down to the communities, grassroots organizations, and households in support of a just transition. Our April training will highlight strategies and resources to get funds into the hands of local community groups and offer skills on how to most effectively call for the change we want to see. 

II. Fossil Fuels and the Fight for Climate Justice

Rapid fossil fuel expansion threatens climate progress and community health in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic. Even as some legislatures pass ambitious climate policies, fossil fuel companies are racing to build new infrastructure and lock communities into oil and gas for the long term, often in the name of climate action. As just one example, Enbridge claims its Project Maple pipeline running from New Jersey to Massachusetts will help New England reach net zero emissions. All despite oil and gas operations being a major contributor to methane emissions and the source of chemical pollution that endangers nearby communities.

Petrochemicals are a growing threat to the planet and communities across the region. Fossil fuel companies are increasingly turning to petrochemicals to grow their revenue and prolong their business ­– with dangerous consequences. Ethane cracker plants transform fracked gas into plastic products, releasing toxins into the environment, posing critical health risks, and entrenching community dependence on fossil fuels. The proposed Encina Chemical Recycling Plant in central Pennsylvania’s Susquehanna Valley, for example, attempts to frame the dangerous burning of plastic as “advanced recycling.”

Large corporations and fossil fuel interests must be held accountable for the harms they are promoting. The region is experiencing more frequent and more powerful storms, wildfire smoke, and lethal heat waves thanks to climate change. Vulnerable and lower-income communities are often the hardest hit. In addition, these same communities are frequently disproportionately affected by other aspects of the fossil fuel economy, from tailpipe pollution from urban truck hubs to chemicals released into the air and water by fracking operations.

A just transition to clean energy can help address many of these issues, but some Mid-Atlantic states have moved slowly to seize this potential. For instance, despite great potential, Pennsylvania has seen some of the lowest growth in solar, wind, and geothermal energy in the entire United States since 2013.

III. Building Resilient Communities with Clean Energy, Green Jobs, and Local Innovations

Numerous Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states and cities have developed climate action plans and passed laws or enacted other requirements to spur building clean energy economies. Successful examples include Maine Won’t Wait, PowerUp NYC, and the New York State Build Public Renewables Act, which requires the Power Authority to provide all energy via renewables. Furthermore, the expansion of green infrastructure across cities and states is enhancing energy efficiency in buildings as well. New York City’s Local Law 97 is a prime example of this trend, requiring retrofits to reduce the emissions from large buildings. With the $8.8 billion in rebates offered through the IRA, there is still great potential to expand energy upgrades in buildings across the United States. These are helping to speed the just transition away from fossil fuels.

Despite significant progress being made, there’s still much work to be done at the state and local levels in reducing emissions and moving toward true net zero. Over 9 million New Yorkers use public transit every weekday, helping the state avoid 17 million tons of global warming pollution each year. Even so, far too many single occupancy and combustion engine vehicles are still on the roads. And the public transit system is in need of major upgrades. That’s why leaders are planning for the future, and public input will be vitally important in getting it right. And while clean energy gains momentum, there are still hiccups. Offshore wind projects in the Northeast have seen some success, but permitting roadblocks and rising costs threaten progress, necessitating additional political, public, and economic support to be an effective avenue for change.

The expansion of clean energy is bringing green jobs, innovative business opportunities, and climate education to communities throughout the region, helping increase resiliency and ensuring a just transition to clean energy. Workers’ voices should be centered in the transition to clean energy expansion. Job training is a critical part of this transition, offering new green job opportunities to fossil fuel workers while creating healthier environments and stronger local economies. Young people also have a major part to play in this movement. Youth are inspiring change in their communities, playing a leading role in many local campaigns and marches – including New York City’s massive March to End Fossil Fuels. Local school curriculums are also working to protect the health of students and preparing young people for the challenges and opportunities of a world shaped by climate change through their green schools campaigns. New Jersey in particular has been leading on this effort, with its Sustainable Jersey for Schools initiative.

IV. The War on Truth

Misinformation is one of the greatest threats to climate action. The rise of digital media has made it increasingly difficult for mainstream audiences to separate fact from fiction on climate.

The truth struggles to break through the growing number of voices online, especially as fossil interests and other bad actors flood social platforms with fake news that downplay or deny the climate threat. The result: widespread confusion, apathy, and even despair among mainstream audiences. This training will discuss ways to cut through the noise and share the truth of climate science.

Corporations and fossil fuel interests not only benefit from, but also generate much of this misinformation. One examination found over 1,700 false ads were published by just 16 of the world’s biggest polluters on Facebook in 2021. Meanwhile, media platforms making millions from these ads face little incentive to change. As support for climate action has grown, more and more this greenwashing now positions fossil fuel interests as leaders in the climate fight, presenting false solutions like natural gas, carbon capture and storage (CCS), and blue hydrogen as pathways to a sustainable future.

The public needs trustworthy sources of information – both human voices and online resources when it comes to exposing global warming polluters, offering a one-of-a-kind, comprehensive online database of greenhouse gas emission sources across the world. The training will explore how we can make this kind of data more accessible to general audiences and increase the presence of real science in news and social media to fight misinformation.

V. The Future is in Our Hands

2024 will be a critical year for climate action. Having worked for ambitious legislation like New York’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, Home Energy Affordable Transition Act, and Environmental Justice Law, communities in New York and beyond now must ensure policymakers implement and expand these measures. Stronger commitments to climate are still needed, with many existing campaigns and coalitions – like Fix the Grid, No Coal, No Gas, and People Over Petro – that people can plug into, not to mention Climate Reality’s own global and local campaigns to combat greenwashing and phase out fossil fuels.

The limited funding windows of the IRA and BIL add urgency to maximizing federal resources for electrifying homes, communities, and cities, and expanding infrastructure for public transportation. Additionally, public and private sector financing reforms will be essential to ensure that money is made available and justly distributed to the communities that need it most.

It's time to shift energy transition into overdrive. Recent UN climate talks in Dubai concluded with an agreement calling for countries to transition their power sectors away from fossil fuels. The training will highlight how advocates, businesses, and governments can seize the moment and urgently work to accelerate a clean energy transition worldwide and help create a healthier, more sustainable future for us all.

Join The Climate Reality Project and former Vice President Gore this April in New York City to celebrate current progress and call for greater change, stronger commitments, and consistent action to ensure a just transition.