By Brian Murphy
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper called on the United States to reassert itself as a global leader in the fight against climate change, telling a divided congressional committee of the economic, commercial and personal toll of climate change to his state while touting his moves as chief executive.
“We can’t afford not to take urgent action to fight climate change. It is not too late, but it soon may be,” Cooper told members of the U.S. House’s Natural Resources Committee on Wednesday in the first of a series of Democratic-led hearings on climate change.
The hearings came on the same day that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released a report showing 14 weather and climate disasters showing 14 weather and climate disasters causing more than $1 billion in damages in the United States last year, including Hurricane Florence which battered North Carolina in September and killed 43 in the state. The report said 2018 was the fourth-warmest year on record, trailing only 2016, 2015 and 2017.
Cooper appeared alongside Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican. Cooper said there is “overwhelming scientific consensus” on climate change and the role humans are playing in it. And he outlined damage that storms and severe weather events have caused in North Carolina in recent years, including hurricanes Matthew and Florence, mudslides in the mountains, animal- and crop-killing heat in the summers and the loss of crops due to flooding and heavy rains.
“Scientists have found that climate change makes weather more erratic. It makes storms larger and more powerful and intensifies heavy rainfall and droughts. North Carolinians unfortunately know this the hard way,” Cooper said, who estimated that Florence did $17 billion in damage to North Carolina.
COOPER’S GREEN GOALS
Cooper has made combating climate change a significant part of his agenda. He issued Executive Order No. 80 in October, formalizing previous support for the 2015 Paris Agreement goals and for the United States Climate Alliance, a group of 20 states pledging to meet reduced emission goals. President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the Paris accords in September 2017.
Among the goals to be reached by 2025 laid out by Cooper: reduce statewide greenhouse gas emissions to 40 percent below 2005 levels; increase registered, zero-emission vehicles to 80,000; and reduce energy consumption in state-owned buildings by at least 40 percent from 2002-03 levels. The executive order created a North Carolina Climate Change Interagency Council and called on the state’s Department of Environmental Quality to develop a clean energy plan.
DEQ released a state greenhouse gas inventory earlier this year, as part of the project.
Cooper came out against drilling for oil and seismic testing off the coast of North Carolina, citing potential disruptions of the state’s coastal tourism and fishing industries, a position he reiterated to the House committee. He also urged lawmakers to not roll back environmental protections.
“His commitment to addressing climate change is a breath of fresh air,” said Drew Ball, the executive director of Environment North Carolina, an advocacy organization pushing for 100 percent renewable energy. “We think Gov. Cooper gets it.”
But some have questioned Cooper’s urgency on the issue. A 2018 report from the United Nations concluded that humans have about 12 years to reverse the most devastating effects of climate change. Despite Cooper’s actions, he and other politicians have “a misunderstanding of the climate urgency,” said Jim Warren, director of NC WARN, an environmental advocacy group based in Durham.