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Climate Works for All coalition calls for sustainable alternative to austerity budget

photo credit: Ellie Lau

New York, NY (December 6, 2023) – Today, students, teachers, parents, labor unions, environmental justice groups, and community advocates from the Climate Works for All coalition, along with local elected officials, launched a new campaign for Green, Healthy Schools with a rally at City Hall Park. On the heels of Mayor Adam’s drastic cuts to public schools, the coalition is calling for a sustainable alternative to his austerity budget: 

  • To electrify and upgrade air quality and ventilation for 500 public school buildings by 2030, prioritizing schools in environmental justice communities,
  • And to commit NYC’s Department of Education to become a zero emissions school district by 2040.

Climate Works for All has assembled a strong coalition of labor unions, students and their families, school workers, and environmental justice groups, united in the fight for Green, Healthy Schools. NYC 3K-12 students, teachers, parents, and school staff deserve safe and healthy workplaces, and Climate Works for All is calling on Mayor Adams to invest in students, teachers, and staff by funding Green, Healthy Schools so all students can breathe clean air and attend school safely — regardless of zip code. 

By retrofitting, electrifying, and upgrading 500 schools by 2030 and all schools by 2040, NYC can:

  • Save significantly on energy costs
  • Invest in environmental justice communities, where 70% of schools with the highest ventilation needs are located
  • Create thousands of green, union jobs
  • Reduce air pollution, improve ventilation, and improve health including minimizing the spread of COVID-19
  • Work toward the city’s building decarbonization goals mandated by Local Law 97

Adams’ recent cuts included $550 million to the Department of Education, with additional cuts expected as federal funds expire, and $11.7 million to the Mayor’s Office of Climate and Environmental Justice, including to a flood protection program. Instead of budget cuts to education and climate that prolong this cycle of disinvestment, Climate Works for All is calling for retrofits to public schools.

Mayor Adams has already committed to invest $4 billion to electrify schools through his Leading the Charge initiative, announced last year. However, $2.3 billion of that commitment remains unallocated. The City estimates that it costs $27 million to electrify and upgrade one school, including heat pump installation and improvements to HVAC and air quality. Therefore, electrifying and upgrading 500 schools will cost $13.5 billion, requiring an average investment of $2.7B annually until 2030. With this investment, Adams can fulfill his Leading the Charge initiative and retrofit more schools in environmental justice communities, help the City meet the goals mandated by Local Law 97, create green union jobs, and give students, teachers, and school staff the safe and healthy workplaces they deserve. 

By comparison, the city is already spending an estimated $1.8 billion per year or $562 per household on the costs of climate change, according to a recent report by NYPIRG, with future costs to the city estimated at a whopping $162 billion. The climate crisis and decades of disinvestment are wreaking havoc on NYC public schools, their aging infrastructure, and nearly 1 million students and their caregivers — a vast majority of whom are people of color and lower-income. NYC public schools are among the worst climate polluters and largest emitters of greenhouse gasses in the city, relying on dirty fossil fuels to power and heat classrooms. Plus, recurrent climate emergencies are disrupting our students’ and teachers’ ability to learn, play, and teach. This year, a flash flood impacted over 300 school buildings, and Canadian wildfires forced schools to shut down due to poor air quality. 

“As we embark on the journey towards a greener, healthier future for our schools in the heart of New York City, let us recognize the profound impact of our collective commitment to environmental stewardship. By championing the Green Healthy Schools Campaign, we not only nurture a vibrant learning environment but also contribute to the crucial task of addressing climate change. In the concrete jungles of NYC, let our schools be the green oases that inspire sustainable practices, fostering a generation empowered to safeguard our planet for years to come.” said Council Member Rita Joseph, Chair of the Committee on Education.

“With the largest public school system in the U.S., NYC has the potential to be a nationwide leader in climate action while generating tens of thousands of strong union jobs. Environmental justice communities like mine in upper Manhattan need radical climate change to ensure a greener, healthier future for generations to come,” said Council Member Carmen De La Rosa.

“Students, teachers, parents and labor unions are calling on Mayor Eric Adams to say you can’t #GetStuffDone with irresponsible budget cuts to education. Teachers can’t get stuff done when public schools are flooding. Students can’t get stuff done when they are suffocating in overheated classrooms. The Green, Healthy Schools campaign is fighting to end decades of disinvestment so we can create green union jobs that build the schools that keep our air clean and students healthy. That starts with electrifying and upgrading air quality and ventilation for 500 public school buildings by 2030, and ensuring that the largest school district in the country is emissions free by 2040. New York City’s future depends on #GreenHealthySchools.” said Faiza Azam, Climate Works for All co-coordinator, and Climate and Labor Organizer at ALIGN

“All New Yorkers deserve to learn, play and grow in safe communities. Children, being among the most vulnerable to poor air quality, should not spend their days in schools that are reliant on polluting fossil fuel infrastructure, public schools should be safe havens. Climate Works for All’s demands to retrofit and upgrade 500 public schools must be met so that New Yorkers have access to healthy and safe schools, good-paying clean energy jobs, and surety of more resilient neighborhoods. This is our opportunity to invest in frontline communities and move meaningfully towards our climate goals,” said Shravanthi Kanekal, Resiliency Planner for the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance.

“Our students and workers are enduring unprecedented vulnerability as a direct result of climate and public health crises facing our city. As trusted leaders, it’s incumbent on us to advocate for changes that will keep our communities green, safe, and healthy. DC 37 supports upgrading air quality and ventilation in public schools and committing the Department of Education to become a zero-emissions school district by 2040,” said Henry Garrido, Executive Director of District Council 37.

“I am proud to join the Climate Works for All coalition in calling for Green Healthy School investments. We should ensure that NYC schools are a sustainable environment for our children, families, workers, and communities. We need to be proactive, not reactive. We should not be forced to fight school budget cuts, but rather strengthen investments both inside and outside the classroom,” said Council Member Sandy Nurse. “NYC must work to electrify and upgrade air quality and ventilation for 500 public school buildings by 2030, and prioritize schools in environmental justice communities that need it most. The climate crisis is truly at a breaking point and necessitates investments in solutions faster than we ever have before.”

“The Mayor’s latest cuts to education continue a longstanding track record of placing the burden of the city’s financial woes on those least able to afford it. They also hamper efforts to meet emissions goals, creating long term health risks for our youngest residents. I welcome the Climate Works for All Coalition calls to reverse these damaging cutbacks and join them in advocating to make New York City schools zero emissions by 2040,” said Council Member Alexa Avilés.

“The Green Healthy Schools initiative invests in the well-being and future of our students and prioritizes a green, healthy, and safe learning environment across 500 of our public school buildings. This campaign underscores the strategic investment needed in our city’s infrastructure now, in order to reap the long-term benefits. It’s time to allocate funds to ensure every student, teacher, and community member has access to quality education and a sustainable future, irrespective of their zip code,” said Council Member Jennifer Gutiérrez.

“I am proud to stand with students, parents, teachers, and workers in the fight for green, healthy schools across New York City. In the face of unacceptable budget cuts, especially to education, I support TREEage and the Climate Works for All Coalition in their mission to electrify and upgrade 500 schools by 2030 and bring the DOE toward the target of being a zero-emissions school district by 2040. Young people, and our entire city, cannot wait any longer for these changes.” said Council Member Chi Ossé.

Joseph Azzopardi, Business Manager and Secretary Treasurer of the District Council 9 Union of Painters and Allied Trades said, “As our children face the frightening reality of a worsening climate crisis and the extreme weather and poor air quality it brings, we must meet them with safe, healthy places to learn. Climate Works for All’s demands to improve school air quality and convert the district to zero emissions are common-sense ways to make our schools healthy, while creating good union jobs in the process. Our members here at District Council 9 are ready to go to work and do our part to make our public schools healthy for all children and to provide opportunities for New Yorkers to join our union.”

“My district has weathered relentless climate disasters from flooding to poor air quality, and neighborhoods all over the city are experiencing the same. Our students deserve to go to school safely and breathe clean air. The path to a clean NYC is Green, Healthy Schools,” said Council Member Shahana Hanif, Co-Chair of Progressive Caucus.

“In New York City, buildings are the largest source of emissions citywide — and schools make up 20% of the city’s emissions. Greening our schools will help us create safer environments for our students and school staff, and build a healthier planet for decades to come.” said Council Member Lincoln Restler, Co-Chair of Progressive Caucus.

“Students are fed up with poor air quality, overcrowding, crumbling school infrastructure, and polluting public school buildings that make the climate crisis worse. We deserve green, healthy, safe, and beautiful spaces to learn. As the nation’s largest public school district, we have an opportunity to break with decades of disinvestment in public schools and instead lead the transition to a sustainable, zero-emissions education system. Mayor Adams has spent his entire mayoral term seeking to undermine public schools and our landmark climate laws. Our public school students, teachers, staff, and families deserve better. “ said Kathryn Gioiosa, Co-Executive Director at TREEage.

“Mayor Adams has not prioritized public schools throughout his term despite the empty promises made to students and parents. As a high school senior in Queens, I’m proud to be part of a growing movement to tell Mayor Adams to invest in green, healthy schools for all. It is long overdue for Mayor Adams to invest in green, healthy schools for all regardless of zip code.” said Amira Ismail, Organizing Director at TREEage.

“As an educator and parent, I am part of a growing consensus that no instructional, academic, civic or arts initiative will matter if we don’t prioritize changes that will make an actual dent in climate catastrophe. We must urgently upgrade our school buildings to make them green and healthy,” said Jia Lee, 4th grade teacher and member of the MORE-UFT caucus

“150+ school buildings flooded this fall. Our kids spent the last 6 months breathing in toxic wildfire smoke. We’re in an ongoing pandemic.  Kids can’t learn if they are sick, if they are unsafe or if they are uncomfortable. All kids deserve green and healthy schoolsIn a city as wealthy as New York & with ample federal funding already available, there is no excuse to delay upgrading and greening our school buildings,” said Liat Olenick, organizer for Climate Families NYC.

Photos of the event are available for download.

Live stream footage of the event is available on ALIGN’s Facebook page.

photo credit: Ellie Lau


Climate Works for All is a coalition of labor, community, faith, environmental justice, and climate organizations, co-coordinated by ALIGN and NYC Environmental Justice Alliance, that have come together to fight climate change and inequality in NYC by demanding a Just Transition for workers and environmental justice communities. Our campaigns move us towards an equitable economy,  a resilient, livable and healthy climate, and must prioritize justice for low income Black and Brown communities across New York City.