Global Challenges, Local Solutions

Government, nonprofit, and academic experts on climate and environmental law convened February 5 for theFordham Environmental Law Review symposium to discuss how municipalities are leading the fight against climate change.

The symposium occurred less than two months after 196 nations signed a global climate accord at the COP21 summit in Paris to reduce their carbon emissions. While climate change is recognized in the scientific community as a global challenge, American cities such as New York are already working on ways to lessen their carbon footprint and make themselves safer and more resilient in the event of weather catastrophes, panelists said.

“Local solutions seem very counterintuitive, and yet they are there,” Fordham Law School Dean Matthew Diller said on Friday in his opening remarks for the symposium titled “Global Challenges and Local Solutions: The Role of Municipalities in the Fight Against Climate Change.”

These local solutions to carbon dioxide-related problems “hold huge promise, not only for climate change, but for other issues” facing governments, Diller added.

Climate change provides the world the opportunity to rethink its economy, its relationship with the planet, and to remake the planet for generations to come, agreed Paolo Galizzi, director of the Sustainable Development Legal Initiative at the Leitner Center for International Law and Justice at Fordham Law. Just like on the global scale, community measures to combat climate change take a great deal of cooperation, he said.

Galizzi moderated the day’s first of three panels with Pace University Law School Professor Shelby Green and Kit Kennedy, director of the Energy and Transportation Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Green likened the sustained and coordinated fight against Mother Nature to a war effort. She described in-depth the “scores of plans” adopted in New York City to mitigate the impact of climate change, including transportation, emergency, and infrastructure strategies, among others. Such measures will cost the city billions of dollars, she noted.

“A war on climate change is a term that takes us to the seriousness of the problem and what we need to do about it,” said Galizzi.

Kennedy praised New York for having strong leadership on climate change and renewable energy. The state’s Clean Energy and Climate Goals by 2030 include 50 percent increases in renewables, 40 percent cuts in greenhouse gases from the state’s 1990 levels, and 23 percent reductions in energy use in buildings, she noted.

As much as 75 percent of the city’s pollution can come from building-related carbon pollution, according to Kennedy. Low-income tenants often pay the price for energy measures because landlords don’t want to, she added.

“When you look at what cities are doing, there is a big focus on energy efficiency, and the quickest, cheapest, and cleanest ways to meet climate change goals,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy highlighted the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, finalized in August and designed to reduce carbon pollution from power plants, as one reason for optimism in the fight against climate change.

Regional EPA counsel Eric Schaaf moderated the second panel and University Professor Sheila Foster, who serves as faculty co-director of the Fordham Urban Law Center, moderated the day’s final panel titled “Interactions with Federal and State Law.”