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Climate change continues to have severe and long-term effects on New York City residents. Although all New Yorkers will be impacted, low-income residents will disproportionately shoulder the burdens created by this crisis. Low-income communities sit at a nexus of physical, political, and economic forces that leave them most vulnerable to extreme weather events and other impacts of climate change.

While daunting, this challenge presents an unprecedented opportunity to make significant progress towards a more just, “living” economy in NYC that ensures families and communities have access to high quality career-path jobs, sustainable and healthy neighborhoods, and ultimately, social equity. A “living” economy will only be realized when our city places equity goals at the center of government actions aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to a changing climate.


After the People’s Climate March in 2014, we applauded the response by the Mayor and City Council to set goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050, achieving zero waste to landfills by 2030, and installing 100 megawatts of renewable energy on public buildings by 2025.

But we know that bold climate goals must be implemented in conjunction with equally ambitious equity goals in mind. Soon after the People’s Climate March, the newly formed Climate Works for All coalition of community groups, environmental justice organizations, labor unions and other allied advocates released its first report, Climate Works for All: A Platform for Reducing Emissions, Protecting Our Communities, and Creating Good Jobs for New Yorkers, that details ten proposals to make our city more resilient, create nearly 40,000 good jobs each year, and cut our annual greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 12 million metric tons of carbon equivalent.


Currently, Climate Works for All is spearheading two campaigns.

The Dirty Buildings Campaign is urging the City to require energy efficiency improvements in the city’s largest buildings to reduce our emissions, create good, local jobs to address inequality, and protect affordable housing to prevent displacement.  Buildings account for over 70% of the carbon emissions in NYC that cause climate change.  When we turn on our lights, use hot water, heat or cool our homes, workplaces and other buildings, and charge our phones, we use electricity, natural gas, and/or oil.  There are approximately 1 million buildings that already exist in NYC, and most of these existing buildings will still be standing in 2050, so only making new buildings more efficient will not solve this problem: we have to upgrade our existing buildings for energy efficiency.

ALIGN’s 2017 report The Trump Family’s Dirty Buildings demonstrated that while some building owners have taken the initiative to invest in energy efficiency upgrades, many others are dragging their feet.  Only mandatory upgrades will ensure they all take the necessary action.  For example, Trump Tower in midtown Manhattan uses more energy than 93% of large residential buildings in the city.  Meanwhile the Empire State Building cut its energy use by 40% – upgrades which will save the building $4.4 million a year.  The changes included upgraded windows and radiators, building system control improvements and advanced lighting.

Climate Works for All’s policy proposal sets out the ways in which the city can require comprehensive measures that cover large commercial and residential buildings and address all energy use (electricity, natural gas and oil), while creating thousands of job opportunities and protecting affordable housing.  In September 2017, Mayor de Blasio announced that the city will require energy efficiency improvements at large buildings, but only covering the use of fossil fuels (for heating and hot water).  Climate Works for All will continue to advocate for full building retrofits, as the only way that the city can meet its ambitious climate goals.  This document provides a clear comparison between the mayor’s proposal and ours.

Representatives of New York City Environmental Justice Alliance, ALIGN, El Puente Presente, and IBEW Local 3 at the launch of Energizing Environmental Justice Communities in May 2017

The Public Power Project seeks to transform the way that New York City transitions to a renewable energy future. The coalition launched the campaign with a white paper report, Restart Solar: How NYC Can Restart Its Solar Program to Benefit Workers and Community, to call for changes to the city’s public sector solar program that will directly result in investments and benefits to working people and our communities. In its second report, Restart Solar: Energizing Environmental Justice Communities“, the coalition makes recommendations on the siting of the city’s solar installations.  DCAS, the city agency that oversees these installations, is taking these recommendations into account, and Climate Works for All continues to meet with them on implementation.

Key goals of the campaign include:

Create a local hire program and pathways to apprenticeship and civil service titles that bring well-paying jobs to our city’s residents; Protect the public interest by ensuring good working conditions via project labor agreements and preserve work in the public sector where appropriate; Prioritize renewable energy investments in environmental justice and low income communities, with a focus on communities that have historically been sites for polluting infrastructure; Conduct a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis of different financing mechanisms, including direct funding, that facilitates the greatest benefits to the city; Share energy savings from solar installations with the communities and/or sites in which the projects occur.

Training activists and building power

Through these campaigns and through training sessions, Climate Works for All is helping to build a powerful movement for climate justice throughout New York City.  Check out this short video of our Citywide Climate Activists training which brought together members of labor and community to build relationships and identify ways to work together on climate change.