Opinion: Why New York State Needs a Climate Corps

Opinion: Why New York State Needs a Climate Corps

“While the federal government—and a growing number of states—are taking action to confront the dual challenges of climate change and workforce development, New York has fallen short.”

Flickr/Gov. Kathy Hochul

A facility that manufactures parts for electric motors in Albany County.

Last month, President Joe Biden issued an executive order creating a landmark program, American Climate Corps, which will provide a workforce pipeline for young people to enter the fields of clean energy, conservation, and climate resilience. The proposal, which is set to create 20,000 paid climate service positions, was based on the Civilian Climate Corps program that was a key component of Build Back Better, but which was ultimately dropped in the subsequent Inflation Reduction Act.

While the federal government—and a growing number of states—are taking action to confront the dual challenges of climate change and workforce development, New York has fallen short. Gov. Kathy Hochul should follow the lead of the Biden administration and create a New York Climate Corps, which will provide New Yorkers with the opportunity to make our communities more climate-resilient while also gaining the workforce training necessary to access good-paying green jobs of the future.

Prior to the creation of the American Climate Corps, five states—California, Colorado, Maine, Michigan, and Washington—had already formed their own climate corps programs. During last month’s Climate Week, five more states announced plans to launch their own climate corps initiatives. New York was not one of them.

In Gov. Hochul’s 2023 State of the State address she highlighted the release of the New York State Climate Action Council Scoping Plan, which provides recommendations to meet the Climate Act’s goals to reduce economy-wide greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by 2030 and 85 percent by 2050. While this plan represents an important step in the fight against climate change, it does not do enough to ensure we are building the green workforce necessary to make the transition to a green economy.

A historic number of infrastructure and green energy jobs are unfilled while demand for a larger infrastructure workforce is only growing due to the multi-billion dollar investments from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the Inflation Reduction Act. In addition, Black, Latinx, and low-income workers are underrepresented in the green energy, climate, and construction fields, despite the fact that these communities are set to be hit the hardest by the impacts of climate change.

Relying on existing hiring methods is not only inadequate to meet the growing workforce demand, but it is likely to perpetuate existing inequities in a field that is disproportionately older, white, and male. A New York Climate Corps has the potential to disrupt this by empowering frontline communities and helping Gov. Hochul achieve her bold climate vision.

A New York Climate Corps could build a new generation of leaders based in the communities most impacted by the effects of climate change. It could support existing national service conservation corps programs in New York to increase their scope, cultivate new partnerships, and hire additional members. Many local and state government offices are well-positioned to host climate corps participants or support community groups in doing so, including those that manage parks, energy and transit development, and climate resilience. Serving in this program could also provide an entry point for a new diverse generation of public servants to enter government roles at a time when state and local governments are facing a historic staffing shortage.

If a New York Climate Corps is created, it is critical that it is accessible to all New Yorkers by providing a living wage, adequate workforce development training, and access to job placement or higher education opportunities. The program should emphasize workforce development training and ensure that those who participate receive the credentials necessary to transition into a green job after their service. It should also track post-service outcomes and gather data on what corps members do after leaving the program.

A New York Climate Corps offers Gov. Hochul the chance to meet the decarbonization and climate resilience goals she has set out, while creating a workforce pipeline into the green energy workforce. Now is an opportune moment—due not only to the American Climate Corps announcement, but also the Clean Water, Clear Air and Green Jobs Environmental Bond Act that passed last year and which can provide some of the state-level funds necessary to get a NY-centric program off the ground.

If Gov. Hochul creates a New York Climate Corps, she will establish herself as a national leader on climate change while also building an equitable workforce pathway to allow thousands of New Yorkers to access the good-paying green jobs of the future.

Robert Godfried is a policy entrepreneur at Next100, a think tank, and co-author of the report, Advancing Pre-Apprenticeship Programming Through National Service.

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