Posted by: Patricia Salkin | December 11, 2010

NYS DEC Issues Policy on Climate Change

In September 2010, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) issued a final Commissioner Policy on Climate Change, which, among other things, creates an internal climate action team. 

The policy provides that, “In performing its responsibilities, DEC must take into account both (a) mitigation of climate change, through reductions in GHG emissions and enhancement of carbon sinks, and (b) adaptation to the expected effects of climate change.”  

Specifically, the Policy directs staff, with respect to mitigation objectives to:

  • Provide coordination, education, and technical support for a State GHG emission reduction program consistent with stabilizing atmospheric GHGs at concentrations that minimize the risks of the most severe impacts of climate change;
  • Reduce GHG emissions to assist in the implementation of Executive Order 24 which established the Statewide goal of an 80 percent emissions reduction below 1990 levels by 2050 (“80 by 50”);
  • Develop GHG reduction strategies transferrable to, and in cooperation with, local, regional, national and international climate protection efforts, where permitted under applicable federal or State legal authority;
  • Encourage development of environmentally sustainable, core strategies necessary for a low-carbon economy such as energy efficiency and conservation, zero or near-zero carbon energy production including renewable energy, “smart” electric transmission system with energy storage, zero carbon buildings, low-carbon liquid fuels, and smart growth;
  • Maintain and enhance carbon sinks, such as forested and agricultural lands, wetlands and green infrastructure;
  • Encourage municipal GHG mitigation measures; and
  • Ensure that reduction strategies are consistent with DEC and State environmental and environmental justice policies and goals. 

With respect to adaptation objectives, the Policy directs staff to:

  • Identify potential adverse impacts from climate change;
  • Incorporate climate change adaptation strategies into applicable DEC programs, actions and activities, based on reduction of threats from physical, chemical or ecological stressors, vulnerability analyses, risk assessments, and uncertainty identification, where permitted under applicable federal and State legal authority;
  • In analyses and decision-making, use best available scientific information of environmental conditions resulting from the impacts of climate change (e.g., increased air and water temperatures, decreased air quality, sea level rise and increased coastal flooding); Incorporate adaptive management into program planning and actions, which uses scientifically based and measurable evaluation, testing of alternate management approaches, and readjustment as new information becomes available;
  • Incorporate measures that enhance the capacity of ecosystems and communities to absorb and/or accommodate the impacts of climate change (e.g. management measures that allow for species adaptation, maintain native biodiversity, provide migration corridors, protect hydrologic function, employ green infrastructure practices, and protect communities and public infrastructure);
  • Protect and restore the habitat and hydrologic functions of natural systems, such as forests, streams, wetlands and riparian buffers;
  • Provide technical assistance to other State agencies, local governments and non-governmental partners to help them ensure that ecosystems, infrastructure and communities throughout the State are resilient to climate change;
  • Work with federal partners, such as the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, Federal Emergency Management Agency, etc., to incorporate climate change principles into their decisions regarding New York State projects;
  • Encourage municipal adaptation measures; and
  • Ensure that adaptation strategies are consistent with DEC and State environmental and environmental justice policies and goals.

Further, the policy directs agency staff, to the extent applicable and within their existing statutory and regulatory authority, to incorporate climate change considerations in all aspects of agency activities, including but not limited to decision-making, planning, permitting, remediation, rulemaking, grants administration, natural resource management, enforcement, land stewardship, facilities management, internal operations, contracting, procurement, and public outreach and education. 

The policy includes five components that are intended to integrate climate change considerations into agency activities: 

(1) greenhouse gas reduction goals and the integration of specific mitigation objectives into applicable DEC programs, actions and activities;

(2) climate change adaptation goals and the integration of specific mitigation objectives into applicable DEC programs, actions and activities;

(3) climate change factors to guide DEC programs, activities and decisions;

(4) designation of climate change coordinators and formation of a DEC Climate Action Team; and

(5) annual climate change programmatic review to identify specific actions that will be taken that further the Policy’s climate change goals and objectives. 

The final Commissioner’s Policy, which includes helpful links to other resources, may be accessed at:

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