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New York City's construction boom shows no signs of abating. Apartment towers and commercial buildings are rising at a frenetic pace all over, including in neighborhoods that, until recently, were not considered magnets for development.

What’s often overlooked is that the energy usage of these massive structures will play a huge role in the survival of our neighborhoods. New York City produces more carbon pollution than 97 countries. An estimated 70% of our carbon pollution comes from the largest buildings.

While making up only 2% of the overall building stock, buildings measuring 50,000 square feet or more use up an astonishing 45% of the city’s energy.

Given New York City’s massive carbon footprint, we must be a global leader in the effort to address climate change, starting with our own buildings. Private building owners and real-estate developers can afford to make necessary energy-efficiency improvements that will benefit all New Yorkers and our future. Unfortunately, most have failed to take action.

That’s why we are calling on Mayor Bill de Blasio to get tougher on the biggest energy guzzlers in our city. He’s set a key goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050. But the only way it can be achieved is by mandating energy efficiency retrofits on large buildings.

City government has tried to incentivize and entice building owners to make changes voluntarily, but these efforts have not gone very far. When it comes to carbon pollution, the vast majority of large building owners won’t change their behavior unless they are required to do so.

An enforceable requirement for energy efficiency is crucial to ensuring significant reductions in emissions and putting our city on a much better path to addressing climate change.

City government must step in and play a bigger, hands-on role in ensuring that all large building in New York City perform retrofits and become dramatically more energy-efficient.

The stakes could not be any higher. A frightening study published last month in the Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences found that rising seas will consume U.S. coastal land that is home to between 20 and 30 million Americans. New Orleans and Miami are the two American cities likely to drown first.

It’s already too late to reverse the worst damage done in those cities by carbon pollution, climate scientists say. But there is still time to protect New York City and other coastal cities—if we act right away.

Imagine our largest buildings without the fire codes that require fire exits. Imagine them without accessibility mandated by the Americans with Disabilities Act. The same goes for energy efficiency in buildings: We need government action to transform them.

The threat of climate change is too great to leave emissions reduction to the discretion and whims of building owners and real estate developers. New York City can make an important contribution to global efforts to tackle the climate crisis by committing to a mandatory, aggressively enforced energy-efficiency retrofit program for all large buildings.

This requirement would have huge economic benefits, too, and combat income inequality—a key focus of the de Blasio administration. It’s a win-win that should be embraced by everyone.

Indeed, upgrades and improvements that decrease energy usage and carbon emissions would create thousands of quality jobs at buildings across the five boroughs.

There is a clear opportunity here for city government to advance environmental sustainability and boost our economy by connecting New Yorkers to careers in energy efficiency and helping them achieve upward economic mobility.

When we look up, we are viewing nothing less than the skyline of survival for New York City.

The fate of all our neighborhoods will depend on how quickly our carbon footprint can be reduced. And we must start with the single largest source of our emissions: buildings.


To read the full article, visit Crains New York