Mayor Bill de Blasio’s September 2014 commitment to reduce New York City’s greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050 demonstrates the leadership New York City needs to decisively reduce our contribution to climate change. This 80×50 goal, coupled with City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito’s legislative package to reduce emissions, has put New York City on track to show the world that reducing our carbon footprint while increasing our climate resiliency is not only possible, but can create good jobs for unemployed and disadvantaged residents and can lead to environmental justice and greater equity in one of the most unequal cities in the United States.
This report details a platform of 10 bold proposals for moving toward 80×50 that make our city more resilient, create nearly 40,000 good jobs each year, and cut our annual greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 12 mil¬lion metric tons of carbon equivalent. New York City must reduce its emissions by 36 million metric tons by 2050. Our plan points the way to achieving one-third of this goal. Putting 40,000 people to work would reduce our unemployment rate by 14 percent and help struggling families to be more resilient in the face of climate change and its disrupting consequences.
Several of the proposals in this report overlap with measures proposed by Mayor de Blasio and the City Council, but others push the city to even stronger action on climate change and quality job creation. This report brings together some of the best thinking on climate policy and job creation from worker organizations, environmental justice advocates, environmentalists, and other stakeholders. Climate change will have severe and long-term effects on New York City residents. In the short-term, New Yorkers will see increased flooding and storm surges. The most severe long-term climate impact for New Yorkers will be rising sea levels. By the end of the century, sea level is likely to rise up to four feet, with a 1 in 100 chance that it will rise seven feet. Given New York City’s 520 miles of coastline and dense residential development on the waterfront, as well as significant commercial, industrial and energy infrastructure located at or near sea level, the danger of rising sea levels to people and the economy is clear. The intensity and reach of storm surges, like during Superstorm Sandy, will be expanded by these higher sea levels. In fact, the impact of Superstorm Sandy was exacerbated by higher sea levels that had already occurred over the last century.
Heat waves are very likely to become more frequent, increasing the risk of heat-related death. By late century, we could experience nearly 60 days per year with temperatures over 90 degrees, whereas today we have about 18 such days per year.3 This has direct implications for those vulnerable to heat, such as the elderly, young children, workers whose jobs are outside, low-income people who can’t afford air conditioning, and those living in substandard housing. Extreme heat there¬fore has health and productivity implications for New York City residents. In addition, the spike in extremely hot days will increase the energy needs in the city to power air conditioning units. This will force New York City to invest in new and expanded energy sources and more resilient distribution networks, at a high cost to taxpayers.
Although most New Yorkers will suffer from some aspects of climate change, poor and low-income residents will be hardest hit. Low-income communities sit at a nexus of physical, political, and financial forces that leaves them most vulnerable to extreme weather events and other impacts of climate change. Nearly half of New Yorkers live at or near the poverty line. Fifty-five percent of Superstorm Sandy’s storm surge victims in New York City were renters, with incomes averaging $18,000 a year. Sixty-four percent of homeowners impacted by Sandy earned less than $28,000 a year.4 Nearly 20,000 undocumented immigrants lived in Sandy affected areas, yet they are excluded from most sources of relief.
This is the challenge facing New York City. We have an unprecedented opportunity to simultaneously solve our jobs crisis, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change. New York City can unlock this potential—and set an example for other U.S. cities—by building physical, economic, and community infrastructure systems in a sustainable and equitable way.
The solutions that follow reflect the core values that we share:
- Climate change is a reality that must be addressed through government-led action that is accountable to communities and workers.
- Addressing climate change is not simply about reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but also about increasing the resiliency of those frontline communities most threatened by climate change, in addition to being disproportionately burdened by historic patterns of environmental, social and economic inequality.
- Physical and social resiliency refers both to the infrastructure that can protect these communities from extreme weather and also to the economic health that provides a financial buffer from destabilizing events like those caused by climate change.
It should be noted that some of the proposals in this report will require long-term commitments, while others can be completed in the next few years. Retrofitting all of New York City’s large buildings will occur over the next 35 years, while replacing the New York City Housing Authority’s (NYCHA) boilers damaged by Superstorm Sandy with combined heat and power units and placing solar on the rooftops of 100 schools should happen over the next few years.
It should also be noted that there is a significant cost to a “business as usual” approach to climate change. Superstorm Sandy caused $19 billion in damage and economic loss in New York City alone. Significant upfront public and private investments in emissions reductions and resiliency measures will pay significant dividends for decades to come, reduce the cost of future storms to the people and infrastructure of this city.
The 10 proposals in this report are not a complete inventory of possible climate protection activities. There are dozens of other valuable projects that will reduce emissions and increase resiliency. Many of these are already underway through PlaNYC, the city’s sustainability plan, or through other resiliency initiatives. The proposals described in this report are complimentary to existing proposals, and are not exclusive of other ideas not yet on the table.