Mayor de Blasio’s bold goal
In 2014, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio made a proclamation to all New Yorkers – and the world at large – that his city would not be taking climate change sitting down. “We are faced with an existential threat,” he said in a statement, “and inaction is not an option.” The Mayor then outlined his plan to drastically cut greenhouse gas emissions over the next several decades, with the overall goal of reducing them by 80 percent below 2005 levels by 2050. The main focus of the plan – called One City: Built to Last – is buildings.
“In New York City, our buildings are responsible for the overwhelming share of our emissions,” de Blasio said. “The energy we use in our homes, schools, workplaces, stores, and public facilities accounts for nearly three-quarters of our contribution to climate change.”
The ten-year plan called for the upgrade of all public buildings, including government offices, schools, and public housing. By 2025, all of these buildings – about 3,000 in total – would be retrofitted to the highest energy-efficiency standards. NYC would also offer incentives to private building owners to retrofit their own buildings. If successful, the plan would cut greenhouse gas emissions by 3.4 million metric tons per year.
One City: Built to Last is a comprehensive plan designed to drastically reshape NYC’s infrastructure. Highlights include:
- Upgrading every city building with significant energy usage by 2025
- Installing solar on over 300 city buildings to generate 100 megawatts
- Spurring the creation of over 250 megawatts of private solar generation
- Using cutting-edge energy technology from New York clean tech startups
- Hiring extra operations and maintenance staff and expanding training for building operators
- Partnering with HUD on the Energy Performance Contract program for additional large-scale energy efficiency initiatives
- Setting ambitious targets for cutting emissions and improving energy efficiency for private buildings
- Requiring owners of buildings with more than 25,000 square feet to measure and disclose their energy usage, perform assessments, and upgrade lighting
- Overseeing the retrofitting of about 20,000 private buildings that make up around 15 percent of built square footage in NYC
- Connecting New Yorkers with new jobs in energy efficiency and renewable energies
- Creating a green grant program for affordable housing
- Ensuring that energy efficiency measures are incorporated into all Department of Housing Preservation and Development rehab programs
- Organizing communities to get behind energy efficiency retrofits, with a focus on neighborhoods facing threats to affordable housing
- Challenging NYC’s biggest private institutions to commit to carbon reductions of 30 to 50 percent over 10 years
- Funding the training of building staff in energy efficiency best practices
- Supporting the expansion of clean tech businesses to NYC
Other facets of the plan include:
Achieving zero waste
NYC has a goal of becoming a global leader in solid waste management. By 2030, the city wants to achieve zero waste, cutting the amount of waste disposed of by 90 percent.
Fossil fuels divestment
In January 2018, NYC announced that within five years, all of its pension funds – totaling almost $190 billion – will be fully divested from firms that own fossil fuel reserves.
Adhering to the Paris Climate Agreement
Despite the U.S. withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement, NYC has committed to upholding the principles of this accord, as evidenced by Mayor de Blasio signing Executive Order 26.
Air quality improvement
Thanks to new regulations and monitoring, air quality in NYC is at its cleanest levels in over 50 years, and new measures are being put in place to further improve it.
Where are we now?
Now that we’re approaching the halfway mark of the plan, we thought it would be a good idea to take a look at the progress that has been made. According to the most recent report, these are the milestones NYC has hit:
- Almost $500 million has been invested to improve energy efficiency in buildings, which includes about $16 million for private buildings.
- The city has assisted with retrofits for energy and water savings for 5,000 buildings.
- More than 400 of these buildings have completed conversions off of heating oil to cleaner fuels.
- Particulate matter has decreased by over 14,000 pounds each year.
- At the end of 2016, there was a 15 percent reduction in 2005 greenhouse emissions levels.
- Since 2014, solar installations have increased by six-fold; by the end of 2018, the city had an installed capacity of almost 30 solar megawatts.
What does this mean for building owners?
In accordance with New York City’s sweeping environmental changes is proposed bill Int. 1253, which puts strict emissions limits on buildings larger than 25,000 square feet, starting in 2022. If passed, building owners would need to make changes and improvements in order to keep carbon emissions below certain limits. If they don’t, they will face severe fines. This is why building owners would be wise to start thinking about implementing energy-saving initiatives if they haven’t already.
Great progress, but still a long way to go
For the most part, New York seems to be on pace to reach its goals by 2025. However, a lot of work is still needed. Mayor de Blasio knew the great efforts it would take to bring his plan to fruition, and also how dedicated the people of New York would be to see it through.
“Realizing this vision will not be easy,” he said at the end of his statement. “The change will come building by building, block by block, and neighborhood by neighborhood. It will require new technologies and innovative thinking. But New Yorkers are the world’s most skilled architects, engineers, real estate developers, academics, construction workers, and building operators. The solutions we develop together will change our city, and they can change cities across the world.”
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