Last week the N.C. Climate Change Interagency Council met for the second time to discuss impacts of climate change on North Carolina and plans for its mitigation.
The council was created by Gov. Roy Cooper’s Executive Order 80 of October 2018, which asserted North Carolina’s commitment to address climate change and transition to a clean energy economy. Under the order, North Carolina pledged to support the 2015 Paris Agreement and honor the state’s commitments to the United States Climate Alliance.
At the council’s meeting on Feb. 19, members reviewed Executive Order 80, received an update on North Carolina’s greenhouse gas emissions and listened to a panel of local speakers on climate change impacts and recommendations.
The council found the state's net greenhouse gas emissions have decreased an estimated 23.7 percent from 2005 to 2017. The two largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions are electric utilities and transportation.
North Carolina is fourteenth in the nation for total carbon dioxide emissions.
The meeting concluded with reports from the cabinet agencies and an opportunity for individuals to provide input to the agencies’ implementation of the executive order.
Sharon Martin, public information officer at the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality, said the state is committed to addressing climate change.
“We believe that North Carolina is working as a leader in addressing climate change impacts on the state level,” she said. “Executive Order 80 is an ambitious directive to keep the state on that track and reach these goals.”
Under the order, North Carolina will strive to reach several goals by 2025; reduce statewide greenhouse gas emissions to 40 percent below 2005 levels; increase the number of registered zero-emission vehicles to at least 80,000 and reduce energy consumption per square foot by at least 40 percent from 2002-2003 levels in state-owned buildings.
Martin said the state has several initiatives to help address both North Carolina’s contribution to climate change, as well as its effects, including severe weather.
“One of the directives in Executive Order 80 is a risk and resiliency plan,” she said. “It’s very much looking at the impacts of climate change and extreme weather on our state and making recommendations on what we can do and policies we can set to help mitigate those in the future.”
Donald van der Vaart, senior fellow at the John Locke Foundation, said although there’s nothing wrong with the governor putting forth an executive order like this, many of the initiatives attempt to take credit for emission reductions that have already been made.
“The executive order uses baseline dates that are quite a number of years old,” he said.
Van der Vaart said some statements coming out of this group have already said they've made huge increases in efficiency, but that the executive order was only signed a few months ago.
"I think they’re trying to get a positive result early on, and I think they will be able to do so because of actions that have been taking place for years,” he said.
Van der Vaart said policies attempting to reduce greenhouse gases are out of North Carolina’s control.
“It is something that is handled by existing law and the public utilities commission, as far as greenhouse gases associated with power production,” he said. “As far as motor vehicles are concerned, the only motor vehicles they’ve got under their authority are those that are purchased through the state motor pool. So they’ve got limited ability.”
Van der Vaart also said it is still too soon to tell whether the council is a worthwhile initiative.
“If it goes on for a long time and it becomes repetitive in nature, who knows. But I think it’s instructive for the various agencies to hear some of this information,” he said.
The council’s next meeting is scheduled for April 2019 in Raleigh.
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