New York's Next Step in Cutting Carbon from Buildings

When New York City leads, the world follows.

That's why the announcement a few weeks ago of the creation of a technical working group to help the city cut greenhouse gas emissions from its building sector by 30 percent by 2025 and 60 percent by 2050 is such exciting news. The effort is part of the city's One City, Built To Last plan to cut citywide greenhouse gas pollution by 80 percent from 2005 levels by 2050--something that Mayor de Blasio announced during Climate Week last September. Because nearly three-quarters of New York's greenhouse gas pollution comes from buildings, getting the details right, as the technical working group is charged with doing, can have a huge impact. (The remaining reductions will come from other sectors, such as transportation and waste.)

New York City's efforts, which begun under Mayor Bloomberg, have inspired cities across the country and around the world to tackle climate change at the local level, especially buildings' impacts. Here in the U.S., the City Energy Project is collaborating with 10 of the country's largest cities--Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Houston, Kansas City (Missouri), Los Angeles, Orlando, Philadelphia, and Salt Lake City--to significantly cut carbon pollution from each city's building sector. Along with New York, these municipalities can make a significant impact on their own, and help transform the ways buildings are retrofitted and operated across the country.

The New York City working group will help develop and implement a plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions from both city-owned and privately owned buildings. The challenge is a significant one, even though the city as a whole has already achieved an impressive 19 percent greenhouse gas reduction and is on track to meet its 30 percent by 2030 goal five years early, by 2025. However, there's still a lot to accomplish.

One of the great things about this opportunity, and about the de Blasio Administration's efforts to make the most of it, is that this ambitious and necessary goal can not only address climate change but also save consumers, especially low-income consumers, as much as $1.4 billion a year on energy, while adding jobs and businesses in New York's clean energy sector. In fact, over the next 10 years, work in this sector will create an estimated 3,500 jobs in the construction industry alone.

The city's largest buildings--those over 50,000 square feet--are already covered by New York's existing and pioneering Greener, Greater Buildings Plan to improve building energy efficiency. These buildings occupy about half the city's built space. So to maximize the coming opportunities, the One City plan will dig deeper, using the technical working group's expertise. (NRDC's Wendy Fok, who collaborates with commercial tenants to improve energy efficiency in their spaces, is a member of the 43-person group, and is joined by a host of architects, engineers, affordable housing advocates, real estate professionals, energy experts, and community representatives.) Together, they'll explore options and opportunities in city-owned buildings--schools, hospitals, and public housing, along with other spaces. They'll develop programs to reduce barriers, empower building owners, and increase financing options for energy efficiency. Their plans should help improve compliance with the city's already impressive building codes, raise the bar for new construction, make sure energy efficiency upgrades are made with an eye toward climate resilience, and that climate resilience projects incorporate clean energy. A critical part of the plan is to make sure the benefits of energy efficiency and renewable energy accrue to everyone, in every income bracket, and that upgrades occur across the city's diverse building stock. Making sure affordable housing is prioritized, and that job training for these new opportunities involves residents of underserved communities, is part of the panel's task.

Creating and assembling a technical working group might seem like just another step in a bureaucratic process. But it shows that the city aims to fulfill a commitment impressive in its own right and also for all that it promises. "It helps move policy in other places," Mayor de Blasio said in September, just before Climate Week, and it remains true now, "when New York City acts."

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