PROVIDENCE — Rhode Island on Monday released a draft report outlining the progress it’s made and the progress it will need to continue to make in reducing greenhouse gas emissions to curb climate change.
The report (in full below) is part of the state’s landmark Act on Climate law of 2021, which sets binding climate emission reduction targets starting in 2030. By 2050, the state must reach net zero emissions. A final version of the draft report is expected later this month, but this is pretty much what you’ll see in final form.
Here are five takeaways from the 110-page draft published by the state Executive Climate Change Coordinating Council, or EC4.
Is the state on track to meet its targets? There’s good news and bad news here, Department of Environmental Management Director and EC4 Chair Terrence Gray said in an interview.
The good news is, if the state takes certain steps to reduce emissions, it is projected to get close to meeting the first emission-reduction target in 2030.
The bad news is that it is projected to miss the target.
“It shows that we’re in the ballpark,” Gray said. “And I think that’s the most important piece — we’re definitely moving in the right direction.”
To be clear, they’re based on models that might be right or wrong, and will be further refined. These are based on work with the environmental nonprofits Rocky Mountain Institute and the Acadia Center.
For climate activists, the projection that Rhode Island will miss the first target emphasizes the need to do even more to address climate change — all things that are within reach.
“For a lot of people, climate change feels really daunting,” Sue AnderBois, climate and energy program manager at The Nature Conservancy in Rhode Island, said in an interview. “The exciting thing is, we know what to do. This plan has a lot of the steps we need to take immediately. It just takes political will, and some shifting of resources.”
OK, so what actions are proposed in the report?
A lot. The report lays out a few things the state is already doing that it should keep doing and do more of, such as:
- Implementing a law passed in 2022 that sets yearly targets to get to a 100 percent renewable energy standard by 2033. In other words, it’s a way to get more and more of the state’s electricity from sources that are renewable. It’s all well and good to go from a gas-burning car to an electric one, but if that electricity is powered by fossil fuels rather than things like solar or wind, those benefits diminish.
- Getting more offshore wind. The state, under a law passed earlier this year, is trying to procure up to another 1,000 megawatts. The state says this procurement would be enough to meet at least 30 percent of the state’s energy needs.
- Get more electric vehicles on the road. The state had 6,275 registered electric vehicles on the road in October 2022, a huge increase from 2015 — but still well shy of the 86,000 registered EVs the state will need to meet its 2030 emission reduction targets in the transportat ion sector. The state has an electric vehicle rebate program, for which plenty of funding is still available, and is working on getting more charging stations.
- And there’s also getting people out of cars entirely, by doing things like incentivizing e-bikes and improving public transit.
The report also suggests a couple more priority actions that aren’t happening yet or haven’t been fully developed, like efforts to look into the future of regulated natural gas distribution — an “urgent need,” the report states. That could get the state on a path to a renewable thermal standard. Thermal refers to heating and cooling homes, and other things like high-heat industrial processes and household activities like cooking. The report says the state should begin looking at ways to have more and more of that powered by renewables.
What more can be done even beyond the report?
As noted, based on the models in this report, Rhode Island will still miss its emission reduction targets by 2030 even if it adopts certain efforts to curb climate change. So what more can be done that the report isn’t suggesting? Well, here’s one example: Advocates have called for the state to fully fund the state’s Transit Master Plan and its Bike Mobility Plan.
The report says those contain good ideas, but that’s “not possible at this time.”
“I would say that like any other policy priority, it’s not accurate for the administration to say that fully funding those plans is not possible,” said Hank Webster, Rhode Island director of the Acadia Center. “It’s a choice, a policy decision not to fully fund those well vetted and approved plans that have been collecting dust.”
Still, Webster describes himself as an optimist, and was overall sanguine about the report and the state’s ability to get to where it needs to go.
“We have the technology and policy solutions that we need to get there,” Webster said.
Where are emissions headed?
The report contains some hints of where Rhode Island’s greenhouse gas emissions have been headed in recent years. Although the data won’t be formally and fully released until next week, it contains the newest data on gross greenhouse emissions from 2019, the last pre-COVID year.
The gross greenhouse gas emissions in 2019 were 1.8 percent below the level in 2016. Electric power consumption decreased by 28 percent, and industrial emissions decreased 9.2 percent. There were increases in residential heating emissions (13.5 percent), commercial heating emissions (8.8 percent), transportation (8.8 percent), agricultural (39.2 percent), and waste (14.2 percent).
Climate activists are highlighting the areas of increase as examples of problem areas that need to be addressed in the future.
How will people get involved?
A big part of this report is getting people involved in the battle against climate change. That gets to the heart of this report, actually. The government will need to make decisions, but so will individuals — a heat pump over new natural gas service, an electric vehicle (or bike) over an SUV. There’s also a big emphasis on climate justice, or efforts to get communities most impacted by climate change more involved in the discussions around it.
“The fact that people have been engaged through those stakeholder meetings that we’ve had is fantastic,” Elizabeth Stone, who leads climate policy work at DEM, said in an interview. “It really shows how deeply people do care about this. And they really want to see the state be successful in meeting its targets.”