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ESF professors, administrators involved in ‘most ambitious climate law in the nation’

The scoping plan SUNY ESF professors have been working on since 2019 received a vote of approval in December by the New York state Climate Action Council, setting it to integrate with New York state’s sweeping Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act.

Over the course of a three-year effort beginning with CAC’s formation, the scoping plan went through nearly 20 meetings of the group on its own, 11 public hearings and over 35,000 written comments before arriving at the finalized plan published in December, according to the council’s published timeline.

The New York State Senate passed the CLCPA in 2019 with the goal of reducing every New Yorker’s carbon emissions, and specifically aiming for a reduction of 40% by 2030 in all sectors of the state’s economy and 85% by 2050. The scoping plan provides recommendations from the 22-member Climate Action Council in order to meet these goals and ensure they’re financially and circumstantially accessible to everyone.

Now, following the plan’s passage, ESF is putting its recommendations into action through upcoming outreach and education initiatives.

In a news release announcing the approval and recognizing the college’s role in its development, ESF President Joanie Mahoney wrote that following the plan’s recent approval, ESF will begin to implement an educational focus specifically in the areas of mass timber construction and long-term durable wood products.

“While the CAC is concluding its remarkable three-year effort, ESF’s work and the work of so many others are just beginning. We are ready, this is our mission as the State’s College of Environmental Science and Forestry and we extend our gratitude and congratulations to Governor Hochul for her leadership in addressing the consequences and challenges of global climate change,” Mahoney wrote.

Over the course of 2020 and 2021, the CAC, along with the council’s co-chairs Basil Seggos and Doreen Harris, created seven advisory panels for the scoping plan — including transportation, agriculture and forestry, land use and local government, power generation, energy efficiency and housing, energy intensive and trade exposed industries waste panels — in drafting the scoping plan.

ESF professor Dr. Robert Malmsheimer, who worked on the agriculture and forestry advisory panel, said he and the other 15 members of the panel served as a bridge between other experts and the CAC. Three other ESF professors — Dr. Timothy Volk, Dr. Colin Beier and Dr. Tristan Brown — worked on the 15-member panels as well.

“As members of the advisory panel, it really was just a great opportunity to participate in that process and to help the folks who were on the Climate Action Council really understand our topic areas,” Malmsheimer said.

Mahoney wrote in the release that the scoping plan referred to ESF 28 times throughout the document and identified the college as a “key stakeholder,” along with the Cornell University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Malmsheimer, also a former attorney with a focus on environmental policies, said that in working on the plan, he was excited to transition his knowledge to be applicable on a more broad state level. He added that the law and others like it are setting the stage for necessary policy change beyond just New York state.

“The legislature showed a lot of foresight when they developed this law. It really sets New Yorkers at the forefront of all of this and what New York is doing in the plan that it’s developing,” he said. “If we’re going to limit global warming to 1.5 ℃ or 2 ℃, we need to significantly change the things that we do in our society, and New York state’s law actually is going to cause this to occur, it requires it to occur.”

Harris added that overall, the CLCPA functions to address the current threat that climate change brings to the state’s economy while the scoping plan provides the means and recommendations to prevent the issue from being exacerbated any further.

“This act is really going to provide some important things that can be utilized by professors in their classroom to talk about as part of conversations that, quite frankly, I believe everyone is going to have to have in the world if we’re going to decarbonize,” he said.

Malmsheimer explained how ESF can help foster this goal through what professors like him teach. He said this is the perfect time to be getting an education in New York state, especially in a sustainability program that ESF offers, because students can look at initiatives the state is enacting to help them understand different aspects of the decarbonization of the current economy.

“We often talk about climate change being something in the future,” Seggos said. “But it’s really something now.”


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