ITHACA, N.Y.  –– Robert Howarth, professor of ecology and environmental biology at Cornell University, has been appointed to the new Climate Action Council, a 22-member group created to propose regulations and policies to achieve the goals of New York State’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA).

CLCPA, passed in June of 2019, requires that the state generate 70 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030, with the goal of achieving 100% carbon-free electricity generation by 2040. Greenhouse gas emissions, generated primarily by the burning of fossil fuels, are to be reduced economy-wide by 40 percent by 2040 and 85 percent by 2050.

Co-chairs of the new council will be Basil Seggos, commissioner of the New York State Department Environmental Conservation, and Alicia Barton, president of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.

Howarth was appointed to the council by Carl Heastie, speaker of the New York State Assembly. Howarth has been teaching and studying climate change since 1980, and much of his work has been focused on the role of methane from shale gas emissions on climate change, and alternative energy policies.

In 2013, Howarth authored a paper outlining alternatives for New York State energy, including wind, water and sunlight. That paper led Howarth to contribute language to the CLCPA alongside New York State Assemblymember Steve Englebright.

One of the major components of the CLCPA derived from Howarth’s work is the required updated accounting for methane emissions, in addition to tracking carbon dioxide.

The other major change inspired in part by Howarth’s research, is that New York State will now consider the effects of consumption of natural gas, and take responsibility for emissions caused by the production.

“When we use natural gas here in New York it’s almost all shale gas from Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia… and there’s a huge climate impact associated with using that natural gas due to emissions of unburnt methane,” Howarth said. “Most of those emissions occur outside of New York, they occur in Pennsylvania and Ohio. Traditionally, as a state, we would’ve said those aren’t our emissions, they’re Pennsylvania’s and Ohio’s. When you do that you lose track of the fact that it’s our consumption of the gas that causes those emissions.”

The goals of the CLCPA are in line with the United Nations’ climate targets of keeping Earth’s atmosphere from warming less than 2 degrees celsius. According to climate scientists, failing to do so could be catastrophic.

Howarth believes that New York State is leading by example to combat climate change.

“The act is the most progressive climate goals set by any state in the country,” Howarth said. “It’s a difficult challenge and you need a special group to think through the details of how you’re going to make it happen.”

Featured image courtesy of Cornell University. ‘Robert Howarth, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, speaks at a 2016 Cornell forum reaching a carbon neutral campus by 2035’

Anna Lamb

Anna Lamb is a reporter for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at