As climate change impacts New Mexico early with depleted rivers, increased wildfires and a drier landscape, everyone must unite to avoid the most dire predictions while ensuring that minority communities and the poorest residents are not left behind.
This was the central theme echoed by political leaders, scientists, environmentalists and community activists on Monday at the New Mexico Climate Summit, which looked at how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. greenhouse that trap heat in the atmosphere.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has called for making the state’s net zero emissions target for 2050 into law in the next legislative session – a statement that has pleased climate advocates and alarmed some in the fuel industry fossils.
“If you don’t have that framework in law, it’s too easy not to work as diligently or as quickly or as efficiently – to not have a future commitment,” said Lujan Grisham. “This should be indicative of the work we are going to do to preserve future generations.”
This legislative effort, if made, would not affect the short-term goal of the 2019 Governor’s Decree to reduce carbon emissions by 40% by 2030.
In a statement, an environmental group pushing for cuts in fossil fuel emissions hailed what it called the governor’s bold edict.
“By imposing net greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 this coming year, New Mexico and the governor will continue to lead the country towards a liveable climate and a just transition,” said Camilla Feibelman, executive director from the Rio Grande section of the Sierra Club. . “We know New Mexicans want fair and bold climate solutions and 100% clean energy.”
But industry advocates denounced the idea in a statement, saying it would hurt the economy and the state’s residents.
“The proposals put forward by the governor today will do nothing more than increase the green tax on working families in New Mexico,” said Larry Behrens, director of the Western States section of Power the Future at Purpose. non-profit. “It’s amazing to hear the governor and his school supporters celebrate the policies that are skyrocketing energy prices in Europe and at home. Our families deserve ideas based on reality, not ideology failure. “
Still, a representative from Occidental Petroleum who sat on a conference panel said he was frustrated with oil and gas operators making statements about how climate solutions will come at the expense of industry.
“For example, my industry has no future in a net zero world,” said Al Collins, vice president of public policy at Houston-based Occidental. “Or that good paying jobs will be lost to low paying jobs when we move to a clean economy. I just think that’s an outdated idea.”
Throughout the conference, speakers spoke of the need to effect a just energy transition for all communities, including Indigenous, Hispanic, rural and other communities whose members are heavily dependent on jobs in the oilfields.
“The transition is coming,” said Maite Arce, founder of the Hispanic Access Foundation. “If we don’t do it right, the same people – the usual suspects – will benefit, and the same people, the same communities, will be left behind. We need to protect workers’ jobs, their homes, their livelihoods and walk with them through this change. ”
This will require building trust and connecting with community leaders to tap into their wisdom on how to get through the transition, Arce said, adding, “After all, they know what’s best for their communities.”
One of the main arguments against pushing too hard or too fast to move the state away from fossil fuels is the massive annual income that the industry puts into the state coffers. Estimates range from $ 1.6 billion to $ 2.6 billion.
Several summit speakers have said that the state must end such dependence on an industry that emits a large part of the state’s greenhouse gases.
“We must do all we can as a state government to create a strong private sector that focuses on the green economy,” said House of Commons Speaker Brian Egolf, who helped organize the conference. “We don’t want to be in a position where over 40 percent of our state budget has a single industry.”
Two climatologists discussed the observed effects of warmer, drier weather.
Global warming is causing less snowpack, increased evaporation and shorter winters – trends that are reducing river and reservoir flows to record levels, said Dave DuBois, state climatologist at the New Mexico State University.
The shortened cold seasons keep invasive insects on trees and crops longer, increasing the pressure on them, said DuBois.
Right now, some of these trends are related to short-term drought rather than climate change, but they’re a harbinger of what’s to come in the next 40 or 50 years, said DuBois.
Ilissa Ocko, a climatologist at the Environmental Defense Fund, said warmer temperatures cause more evaporation, not only dragging more water into the atmosphere, but also torrential rains on the dry ground.
The arid soil also cannot absorb rain, leading to severe flooding, she said.
Methane, a key component of natural gas, has caused a quarter of global warming, Ocko said.
Scientists have determined that methane is 28 times more powerful than carbon dioxide at warming the atmosphere over a 100-year period.
But methane only persists for a decade, much less than carbon dioxide, which can last 300 to 1,000 years. If methane emissions are phased out, it will go a long way in slowing climate change, Ocko said.
However, it is just as important to eliminate the more sustainable carbon dioxide pollution, she added. The oil and gas industry emits about half of the state’s methane and a third of carbon dioxide, she said, adding that the technology should be used to capture it.
Lujan Grisham and other state officials touted the regulations, policies and laws put in place during his tenure to tackle climate change, such as the electric vehicle tax credit and the law on the energy transition, which requires public services belonging to investors to produce 50% of renewable energy. energy by 2030.
But they all agreed that there was more to do.
State Senate President Pro Tem Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, said regulators must be fully funded to achieve the governor’s climate goals, such as net zero emissions by 2050.
“We are helping each other by not funding them adequately,” said Stewart.