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Implementing a Just Transition: NY State Assembly passes “New York State Climate and Community Protection Act”

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Article 4 principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities” requires the burden of climate change to be borne by those that can afford to do so. This climate ‘solidarity’ ideal is also reflected in the requirement of a “just transition” to a green economy, outlined in the Preamble of the COP21 Paris Agreement. It follows from this concept of “climate justice” that vulnerable communities should not bear the brunt of climate change, either on a global or national level.

On June 1, New York State Assembly passed the progressive “New York State Climate and Community Protection Act”. This act aims to address and mitigate the impacts of climate change, particularly in relation to vulnerable communities and job sectors in the wake of disasters such as Hurricane Sandy.

Not only ambitious in its green energy goals, the Act is notable for its robust focus on environmental and economic justice. The Act gives the state until 2030 to get at least 50 percent of its electricity from clean energy. By next year; New York will have to generate 27 percent of its electricity from renewable sources. 40 percent of the funds generated from any new market scheme established to meet these targets must be used for research and development of energy programs in disadvantaged communities such as improving energy efficiency in low-income housing areas, solar installations, wind turbines and heat pumps.

Before implementing programmes or drafting regulations and guidelines in relation to these emission reductions, the Act requires the Department of Environmental Conservation to conduct studies that identify the barriers that disadvantaged communities face in accessing and owning clean energy sources, as well as other climate-related programs.

Particularly progressive aspects of the Act include its focus on the retraining and the retention of decent pay and conditions as workers from fossil-fuel heavy sectors transition to the green economy. The preamble states the Acts aims to:

  • Shape the ongoing transition in NY State’s energy sector to ensure that it creates good jobs and protects workers and communities that may lose employment in the current transition.
  • Set clear standards for job quality and training standards that encourage not only high-quality work but positive economic impacts.
  • Prioritize the safety and health of disadvantaged communities as well as control potential regressive impacts of future climate change mitigation and adaptation policies on these communities.
  • Require that all projects contracted pursuant to the act that either receive financial assistance of more than $100,000 or have a total value of more than $10 million pay to building service workers and construction workers the prevailing wage rate of the locality in which the project is located. These projects must also include in their contracts labour harmony policies, dispute resolution mechanisms, prevailing wage compliance, safety policies, workers’ compensation insurance and apprenticeship program utilisation.
  • Provide that contracts by recipients of financial assistance pertaining to the prevailing wage are to be considered for the benefit of the applicable workers and these workers have a right to maintain an action in court if they are paid less than the prevailing wage.

The legislation requires New York State to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from major sources to zero by 2050, demanding a near total de-carbonization of its economy. Ireland’s Energy White Paper, published in December 2015, stated a similarly ambitious aim to reduce fossil fuel use within the energy sector from 80-95 percent by 2050. However, shorter term targets are required with a similarly ‘New Deal’ style or Selective Training and Service Act of 1940– inspired strategy for communities affected – all held fast with robust legislation.

This Act and the growing sea-change across the globe in relation to action on climate and “just transition” should provide food for thought for the Irish Government in advance of the National Dialogue on Climate Change. In particular, New York State’s legislation gives an example of how Section 3(2)(c) of the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015 can be fulfilled, which requires the Minister to have regard to “climate justice” in developing a national mitigation plan and national adaptation framework.

The implications of climate action for workers within Bord Na Móna’s Edenderry peat-powered plant, ESB’s coal-fired power station at Moneypoint and Ireland’s increasingly industrialised farming sector will have to be discussed in a robust, fair and just manner.
By engaging with, protecting and learning from the communities and workers on the frontline of climate action we can ensure a groundswell of support for the transition to a clean, green economy.


Sinead Mercier - headshot - low res - Copy


Sinead Mercier

Climate Change Consultant