As We Get Set for Climate Week in the Big Apple, NYC Can Demonstrate Strong Leadership on Energy and Climate

Climate Week is coming up next week here in the Big Apple, which is great news! The international forum draws world attention to the critical issue of climate change. It also highlights what we New Yorkers can do in our own backyard. After all, to meet our climate goals, we need advances not only at the international and national levels, but at the local level, too. Already, New York is arguably one of the “greenest” cities in the country—residents have a carbon footprint much smaller than the national average, thanks to our building density and small spaces that reduce heating and cooling needs, as well as our extensive public transportation system. The Big Apple has also been a leader on implementing effective climate policies, especially innovative initiatives that scale-up energy efficiency in the city’s buildings.  

We can’t rest on our laurels, though – there is still much more to be done. Mayor de Blasio has a tremendous opportunity to address the biggest environmental challenge of our time, both locally and on the world stage.  Here are some of NRDC’s ideas about how he can move ahead:


Scale up Energy Efficiency in Affordable Multifamily Housing.  As my colleague Raya Salter explains in her blog post on this issue, energy efficiency upgrades in the apartment buildings that are home to many of the city’s low-income tenants can substantially reduce energy bills and create healthier places to live. Low-income New Yorkers often pay a staggering share of their income for electricity and natural gas—as much as 20 percent—meaning they have less on hand for necessities like food and healthcare. Scaling up energy efficiency addresses that issue while creating the jobs New Yorkers need, reducing air pollution and beefing up the reliability and resiliency of our electric grid.

We’re encouraged that the Mayor has included energy retrofits in his affordable housing plan and look forward to working with his administration as it shapes its efforts to scale up energy efficiency for the most vulnerable New Yorkers.  As part of that effort, we recommend that the Mayor:  

-        Create a “green and healthy homes” task force to develop energy retrofit strategies for the affordable multifamily housing sector; and,

-        Ensure that all new affordable multifamily housing is energy-efficient and built with the goal of reducing carbon pollution by 80 percent by 2050.


Beef Up New York City’s Strong Leadership On Building Energy Efficiency. Because buildings are responsible for 75 percent of New York City's carbon footprint, cutting building energy consumption has to be a key element in any plan to address climate change in the city.  It is critical that Mayor de Blasio dedicate the resources necessary to effectively implement the landmark Greener, Greater Buildings Plan and other innovative efforts already in place to address market barriers to increased efficiency (including through the New York City Energy Efficiency Corporation, Green Light New York, promotion of energy-aligned leases, and mayoral carbon challenges through which hospitals, universities, commercial tenants, co-ops and condos have pledged to reduce their building-based emissions by at least 30% in ten years). But, much more can be done to build upon these efforts and significantly scale up energy efficiency in New York’s existing building stock.  We recommend that the Mayor:

-        Expand the reach and multiple benefits of the Greener, Greater Buildings Plan to buildings under 50,000 square feet, in particular by decreasing the compliance threshold to 25,000 square feet by 2016, and requiring benchmarking, energy audits or other simple steps to be taken at the time of sale for smaller buildings; and,

 -        Lead the way toward cutting carbon pollution by 80% by 2050 by ensuring that new municipal buildings are built to achieve this goal; and, by establishing energy efficiency standards for the renovation of typical municipal spaces, like offices and classrooms.


Juice Up Electric Vehicle Adoption. EVs are the most energy-efficient cars on the road. That means promoting electric vehicles needs to be central to any plan to address climate change here in the Big Apple. Increasing access to EVs will especially benefit those New Yorkers who spend a greater proportion of their income on transportation and live in neighborhoods with more air pollution.  We recommend that the Mayor:

 -        Create targeted electric vehicle car-sharing programs in disadvantaged communities. These programs can offer needed mobility without the high costs of car ownership;

 -        Install EV charging stations using a process that lets communities request curbside charging and take part in deciding how such stations are managed and used; and,

 -        Prioritize the purchase of plug-in electric vehicles for City fleets and incorporate electric vehicles into the City’s overall taxi strategy, including for outer borough taxis and vehicles accessible to people with disabilities.  Fleet purchases can help create economies of scale for manufacturers and thus reduce the price of EVs for all of us.


Shine The Sun On Solar Power (And Other Kinds Of Distributed Clean Energy). Clean, distributed energy and storage technologies, such as solar power, combined heat and power (CHP), and battery storage can significantly improve our air quality and our public health.  Increasing their use also creates jobs for out-of-work New Yorkers, cuts the costs of maintaining the grid and enhances its reliability and resilience during weather extremes like New York’s intense summer heat waves. We recommend that the Mayor:

 -        Make installation of these technologies easier by streamlining the municipal permitting process and removing other regulatory and legal barriers to the installation of solar PV, CHP and battery storage in the City’s Building and other Codes.


Strongly support offshore wind.   Offshore wind has numerous benefits, from emissions-free electricity, to stable electric prices, the creation of local jobs, and increased economic development.  The "Long Island – New York City Offshore Wind Project", a public-private collaborative partnership of the New York Power Authority (NYPA), the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA) and Con Edison, would be designed for 350 megawatts (MW) of electric generation for New York City and Long Island, with the ability to expand to 700 MW (enough electricity to power an estimated 245,000 homes).  New York City’s support of this project has been, and will continue to be, critical for its success.  Therefore, we recommend that the Mayor:

-       Continue New York City’s strong support of the existing collaborative effort to bring offshore wind to New York.


Climate Week will be an exciting time here in the Big Apple.  As all eyes focus on New York City and this global challenge, we have a tremendous opportunity to lead the way in the fight against climate change and  demonstrate the importance of local leadership on this issue.