On September 21, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced New York City’s new plan to reduce carbon emissions by 80 percent from 2005 levels by 2050. The plan unveiled is called “One City, Built to Last: Transforming New York City’s Buildings for a Low-Carbon Future.” It seeks to reduce the carbon footprint of the city’s top emitters of greenhouse gases (GHG): buildings, both public and privately owned. Close to three-fourths of all GHG emissions in New York City come from the energy used to heat, cool and power buildings, so retrofitting for energy efficiency is an integral component to reducing emissions. Mayor de Blasio said there is a “moral imperative” to act on climate change, explaining, “Global warming was much more of an abstraction to New York City until two years ago,” when Superstorm Sandy hit NYC, leaving 44 dead and causing $19 billion in damages.

New York City will be making direct investments of at least $1 billion in public buildings, public schools, and public housing over the next 10 years to reduce the government’s contribution to climate change and save taxpayer money. The direct investments will include upgrades to buildings to be more energy efficient, such as high efficiency lighting or heating, as well as installing solar and other renewable energy systems to make the city self-reliant. All of the 3,000 public buildings which use significant amounts of energy will be retrofitted so that by 2025 operating costs and energy usage will be significantly reduced.

Julian Castro, Secretary of the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, said, “I strongly support innovative efforts to make public housing more energy efficient and sustainable. Expanding the energy retrofit initiative in New York City would make an incredible contribution to this goal. This would also support our Climate Action Plan, which is aimed to cut energy waste by half in the residential sector.”

New York City’s plan will not only reduce emissions and energy costs, it will also create over 3,500 construction and energy service jobs. In addition, over 7,000 building staff will receive training to upgrade their skills to work with new technology. Mayor de Blasio’s plan is projected to reduce GHG emissions by 3.4 million metric tons a year by 2025, which is comparable to taking more than 700,000 vehicles off the road; this in turn will save the city’s combined public and private sectors over $1.4 billion annually by 2025 in utility costs.

According to an article in the New York Times, the plan is being criticized because its approach to private sector buildings is deemed unrealistic. The plan’s goals are to encourage private building owners to invest in energy efficiency upgrades by setting ambitious interim targets and to incentivize the start of voluntary reductions by offering “green grant programs” which private building owners can apply for. Mayor de Blasio’s administration realized this approach may not be tough enough, so they plan to adopt mandates if interim reductions targets are not met by the private sector. If successful, the plan will result in tens of thousands of privately owned buildings being retrofitted, saving millions of dollars annually on utilities and drastically reducing GHG emissions. Recently, city officials have noticed many New York real estate owners have been embracing green buildings at their own initiative, by constructing green buildings and retrofitting existing properties. This leads to significantly lower operating costs, but also helps attract high-end renters who are willing to spend more on “green” living spaces. If this trend continues, the need for mandates may not be necessary.

New York City is joining many other cities, states and governments in pledging to reduce emissions 80 percent by 2050 – including Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, Portland, Minneapolis, New York State, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Massachusetts, Michigan, the European Union, and more. These “80 by 50” pledges differ in the baseline years selected – New York City chose an 80 percent cut from 2005 levels, which was a relatively high emissions year. Emissions reductions from years with lower emissions levels, such as 1990, as Florida has chosen, or 2001, as Connecticut chose, will yield a lower final emissions level. So far, New York City is the largest city to make such a commitment, according to NYC officials.

New York State assembly speaker Sheldon Silver said, “We need bold and decisive leadership to combat climate change, and Mayor de Blasio is clearly leading the way to make NYC a powerful and driving force in reducing GHG emissions and becoming a model for energy efficiency. When New York acts, the world takes notice.” Mayor de Blasio’s latest announcement builds on the work initiated by past NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg. He launched PlaNYC in 2007 to lower New York City’s contribution to climate change, and make it more resilient to climate change impacts. De Blasio commented, “Climate change is an existential threat to New Yorkers and our planet. Acting now is nothing short of a moral imperative.”

Author: Brendan Ingargiola