Ahead of NYC summit, Al Gore says addressing climate change is one way to solve migrant crisis

New York City’s migrant crisis could be solved — at least in part — by solving the global climate crisis, according to former Vice President Al Gore.

In an interview with Gothamist ahead of his Climate Reality Leadership conference at the Javits Center in Manhattan next month, the politician turned climate activist said climate change is already a leading cause of migration into the United States.

“Studies have shown that the climate crisis is responsible for most of the migration,” Gore said. “What we’re seeing with migration from Central America, and other regions, too, to the southern border of the U.S. is driven more by the climate extremes these people are suffering in the places they’ve always called home.”

A 2023 United Nations report found 114 million people worldwide have been forced to leave their homes due to climate change and conflicts. That number is expected to exceed 1 billion by 2050.

More than 175,000 migrants have arrived in New York City over the last two years, according to city officials. The city has spent an estimated $4 billion on caring for the new arrivals since 2022.

“It costs much more to continue this reckless and dangerous practice of continuing to burn fossil fuels,” Gore said. “There are more than 8 million people that die every year from breathing in the pollution that is caused along with the global warming pollution when fossil fuels are burned.”

Gore’s conference lands in Manhattan from April 12 to 14. It marks the 55th time he’s held the event but the first time it will come to New York City, and it will arrive at a key moment in the city’s push to reduce carbon emissions.

City and state lawmakers have passed some of the country’s toughest climate legislation in recent years. But there’s still a long way to go in enforcing them.

Local Law 97, New York City’s most significant climate rule, requires the city’s largest buildings to reduce their emissions by 40% by the end of the decade.

But only 21 government employees are currently tasked with enforcing the rules, which apply to roughly 50,000 of the largest buildings across the five boroughs. And Mayor Eric Adams has allowed extensions for noncompliant buildings instead of levying fines.

Gore said the Climate Reality Leadership event’s key points include offering free education on the climate crisis’s causes and solutions — as well as helping climate advocates take action in their own communities.

“This is an opportunity for anyone in New York City, in the Northeast, in the mid-Atlantic states to learn all of the facts, an opportunity to build skills for communicating more effectively about implementing solutions, to connect with others and networks that can give you strength in numbers,” Gore said. “It’s important to change light bulbs, but it’s way more important to change laws and policies, and that means getting more involved In the political dialogue and in the political process.”

Local advocates who registered for the weekend workshop said the event brings groups with similar interests together to share knowledge and strategies, as well as get inspired.

“You can expect to meet folks from all over the globe who are active, who are innovative and compelling,” said Peggy Shepard, executive director of WE ACT, an advocacy group that’s worked on several of New York’s climate regulations. “Whether it’s understanding new communication opportunities, understanding particular policies that you weren’t clear about before, hearing about best practices that other groups are using, there’s so many ways to really enhance your skills through this conference.”

The registration deadline for the conference is March 24. Scholarships are available for lodging and transportation. The next training takes place in Rome, Italy, from June 28 to 30.

“We’re on the brink now of a positive political tipping point, where these extreme events related to climate are convincing more and more people every day that we have really got to move faster,” Gore said. “Every night on the TV news and the radio news is like a nature hike through the Book of Revelation. So we’ve got to take action now.”

This story has been updated to reflect the number of DOB employees tasked with enforcing Local Law 97. 

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