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Volume 7 of 9

A Livable Climate

New York City will lead a just transition to achieve carbon neutrality and adapt the city to withstand and emerge stronger from the impacts of climate change.
OneNYC 2050 : Volume 7 of 9 : A Livable Climate

New York City will lead a just transition to achieve carbon neutrality and adapt the city to withstand and emerge stronger from the impacts of climate change.

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Climate change poses an existential threat to our future.

It is happening on both a national and global level and on our city’s streets. Communities across the city devastated by Hurricane Sandy fear another extreme weather event. We all worry about aging relatives and children during heat waves that now occur more frequently. New Yorkers are already affected by regular tidal flooding — and it will only get worse and more widespread as sea levels continue to rise in New York City at twice the global average. Lives are on the line, time is not on our side, and the future of our city is in jeopardy.

The science behind climate change is indisputable: The burning of fossil fuels is the single largest contributor to human-caused climate change. Unfortunately, climate change is a national emergency without a national policy, and efforts to curb fossil fuels and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions have been stymied by federal actions such as the repeal of the Clean Power Plan the federal government’s intention to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement, and the weakening of vehicle fuel standards—as well as a persistent campaign of deception and denial by fossil fuel companies.

We will achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, and do so in a just and equitable way. To make our communities safe and resilient, we will continue to invest in flood and heat mitigation, and in hardening our critical infrastructure, including transit, energy, telecommunications, water, wastewater, and waste management. We will also ensure our air and water are clean, residents have access to open and natural spaces, and sustainable transportation options are available to everyone. We will do all of this while housing a diverse and growing population and creating good-paying and accessible “green” jobs. New York City will have a livable climate and take a leadership role both at home and abroad in confronting climate change.

CONTEXT

Climate change is already having an impact on our health, our livelihoods, our communities, and our built and natural environments, with a disproportionate burden falling on the city’s most vulnerable populations and communities. Heat and rising temperatures threaten the city’s livability: In fact, extreme heat is nationally the number one cause of mortality from weather conditions. Destructive storms are also dangerous to the city: In 2012, Hurricane Sandy killed 44 people and caused $19 billion in damages in New York City. Unfortunately, that storm was not an isolated incident.

More-frequent extreme weather events are likely to come. Recently, we’ve seen massive hurricanes batter the U.S. Gulf Coast and Puerto Rico, inland flooding in the Midwest, extreme heat waves in Japan send tens of thousands of people to the hospital, and deadly wildfires devastate communities in California. These disasters killed hundreds, displaced many more, and resulted in hundreds of billions of dollars in damages and lost economic activity.

And it will only get worse. As a result of climate change, we will see disruptions in the global food supply as flood, droughts, and pests damage crops, and ocean fisheries collapse from acidification and oxygen depletion; mass migrations — particularly of communities dependent on agricultural or coastal livelihoods — as whole regions become uninhabitable; impacts on human health with more heat-related deaths and vector-borne diseases, such as malaria, dengue fever, Zika, and Lyme disease; and unpredictable impacts on our economy and way of life.

By the 2050s, New York City will be hotter than ever before. Average temperatures are expected to increase by up to 5.7 degrees Fahrenheit, and as many as 1,500 people may die each summer from intense heat — almost five times more than today. By the 2050s, the estimated average annual precipitation increases of up to 11 percent will pose significant risks to the entire city. The nearly 1 million residents who will live in the expanded coastal floodplain will be particularly vulnerable to coastal flooding, with sea levels expected to rise by up to 30 inches. High tides will cause flooding twice a day in some areas, and permanent inundation in others. Without added protections, much of Coney Island, the Rockaway peninsula, Flushing Meadows, Hunts Point, East Harlem, Throgs Neck, and the East Shore of Staten Island could be flooded during storms.

Scientists continue to generate ever-more sophisticated climate models and projections related to flooding, heat, drought, and other climate impacts, and deepen our understanding of how human-caused activity could further exacerbate these effects. In a landmark report released in 2018, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded that the world has as few as 12 years to keep global temperature rise under the 1.5 degrees Celsius threshold, beyond which the impacts of climate change could become both catastrophic and irreversible.

PROGRESS

New York City is rising to the challenge, and has become a global leader in the fight against climate change. We are putting into action a bold vision that meets the twin challenges of climate change and inequality, demonstrating what the Green New Deal looks like in practice, at the local level.

Because of our density and vast public transportation system, New York City already has a smaller per-capita carbon footprint than any big city in the United States. In 2017, the City committed to developing a pathway to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius, in alignment with the Paris Climate Agreement, and in response to the urgency of the climate crisis as presented by the IPCC and echoed in the Fourth U.S. National Climate Assessment. The City released 1.5°C: Aligning New York City with the Paris Climate Agreement, which, alongside nearterm action commitments, provided a vision and a plan for how the City and its partners can both reach carbon neutrality and aggressively reduce GHG emissions as soon as possible.

The City has been actively working to reduce GHG emissions. As of 2017, we have reduced municipal GHG emissions by nearly 30 percent, and citywide emissions by 17 percent, from a 2005 baseline. The City has committed billions of dollars to energy-efficiency measures in municipal buildings, resulting in more than $60 million per year in recurring annual savings. To date, these measures are in place in more than 1,600 municipal buildings. Our Retrofit Accelerator and Community Retrofit NYC programs have also helped more than 5,000 privately-owned buildings complete energy retrofits. The City also operates the largest electric municipal fleet in the nation, with more than 1,750 electric vehicles (EV), and are on track to meet our Clean Fleet goal of 2,000 EVs by 2025. And we have expanded the bicycle network, adding 244 miles of bike lanes since 2015, installed 550 EV charging stations for the City’s municipal fleet, and provided incentives to replace or upgrade 500 old, dirty trucks with clean new models through the Hunts Point Clean Truck Program.

New York City has also experienced significant growth in solar power. Since the beginning of 2014, installed solar capacity has increased sevenfold, and we now have enough solar installed across the city to meet the needs of nearly 50,000 households. Installation and equipment costs also continue to go down and have dropped by 25 percent since that start of 2014 — thanks, in part, to the City’s solar property tax abatement of up to 20 percent off system costs — making solar more affordable and more accessible than ever.

Not only has the city reduced GHG emissions, it has also become safer and more resilient. Several important coastal protection projects have been completed, including the reconstructed Rockaway Boardwalk, a coastal erosion protection project in Sea Gate, and nearly 10 miles of dunes across Staten Island and the Rockaway Peninsula. Other projects are underway to curb the effects of extreme heat and increased precipitation — and to help engineers, architects, and planners integrate future climate change data into their designs.

Along with our efforts to reduce emissions and become more resilient, we are investing in the future and will double the investment of City pension funds in renewable energy, energy efficiency, and climate solutions. New York City is also bringing the fight against climate change straight to the fossil fuel industry that caused the climate crisis in the first place. We are divesting our pension funds from fossil fuel reserve owners and have filed a lawsuit against five investor-owned fossil fuel companies that have contributed the most to climate change. While they deceptively encouraged dependence on fossil fuels and reaped the profits, cities like New York have been left to foot the bill for the damage fossil fuels have caused.

What we heard from New Yorkers

Of the more than 14,000 New Yorkers who responded to our survey on the city’s greatest challenges, 19 percent selected climate change, and 17 percent selected the environment. The key themes expressed include:

  • Desire for New York City to be a national and global leader on climate policy
  • Desire for City leadership on renewable energy
    and energy retrofits
  • Support for infrastructure and policy to protect shorelines and mitigate flood impacts
  • Need for increased convenience of
    climate-friendly actions
  • Call to curb pollution and address poor air and
    water quality
  • Support for Fossil fuel divestment, carbon
    pricing, and new green regulations

Specifically, respondents called on the City to create “stricter environmental laws as well as incentives for people and companies to go green,” including “holding New York City agencies and institutions accountable to the 1.5 Degree Climate Action Plan.” Respondents also encouraged the City to enforce “environmental justice guidelines for all projects.”

Climate Science

It’s undeniable: the impacts of climate change are playing out right before our eyes. Increasingly severe weather events around the globe have disrupted the lives of millions and are providing an alarming glimpse into what the future will hold if the world doesn’t dramatically cut its GHG emissions.

Our understanding of the links between human-caused climate change and natural disasters is being enriched by the evolving scientific field of extreme weather attribution. At the same time, scientists are continuing to generate more sophisticated climate models and projections related to flooding, heat, drought, and other climate impacts, and how human-caused activity could further exacerbate these effects.

In 2018, IPCC published the Special Report on 1.5°C — an assessment of over six thousand recent scientific papers and documents that provided new evidence of the scale of the challenge at hand. As stated in the report, global temperatures have already warmed 1.0°C above pre-industrial levels, and dramatic action — essentially, reaching net-zero global emissions — will be required to keep warming at or below 1.5°C.

With 2.0°C of warming, the impacts of climate change would verge into catastrophic and irreversible. As compared with a 1.5°C scenario, 2.0°C of warming would triple the number of insect species, and double the number of plant species, projected to lose their habitats. The global population suffering water scarcity would double and 99 percent of all corals would be lost. The impacts to food systems, local and global poverty, and migration will be significant.

It is still possible to limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C, but only if all government and private-sector leaders make ambitious climate action an urgent priority. There is no simple or absolute path forward for limiting warming to 1.5°C. The IPCC Special Report includes an analysis of the “pathways,” or scenario-based projections, of future action for limiting warming to 1.5°C, and shows that they all have one thing in common: They require global emissions to peak almost immediately and then continue to drop until they reach net-zero as soon as possible. The longer we wait, the more expensive and difficult it will be to reduce emissions as shown in the below chart.

For more than a decade, New York City has been at the forefront of science-informed climate policy, leveraging the expertise of the New York City Panel on Climate Change (NPCC), an independent panel of academic and private-sector experts formed by the City of New York and whose members are appointed by the Mayor. This body, which is unprecedented among American cities, provides downscaled scientific projections for the region and assists New York City’s policymakers in understanding and planning for the climate change risks of today and the threats of the future.

In their most recent 2019 report, “Advancing Tools and Methods for Flexible Adaptation Pathways and Science-Policy Integration,” NPCC reaffirmed its earlier climate science projections made in 2015, validating them as the basis for planning and decision-making in the region. In addition, the 2019 report provides new understanding of long-term, low-probability flood risk from rapid Antarctic ice melt and recurring “sunny-day” flood events due to sea level rise along with increased awareness of the potential impacts on communities and infrastructure from increased emissions, further underscoring the connection between the City’s plan for GHG emissions reduction and its comprehensive climate resiliency strategy.

These NPCC findings and other climate projections are being put into practice in New York City’s ambitious climate planning. We recognize the importance of basing our decision-making in science and will continue to conduct rigorous, peer-reviewed scientific research to ensure that our policies and actions are protective and cost effective.

WHAT WE WILL DO

New York City is already demonstrating its determination to confront the climate change crisis, fight for climate justice, and take a leading global role in ensuring a livable climate. But much more must be accomplished, especially for our most vulnerable populations and communities.

We must achieve carbon neutrality — which means a 100 percent reduction in net GHG emissions — by 2050. This will require a radical shift to end our reliance on fossil fuels and ensure 100 percent clean electricity resources, and to transform the city’s buildings, energy, transportation, and waste sectors to fully electrify the city. It will also require major shifts in our own lives — to more sustainable lifestyles — and smart urban planning to prioritize sustainable modes of transit in dense neighborhoods (see more in the Efficient Mobility and Thriving Neighborhoods volumes). At the same time, to limit the effects of climate change and protect people and communities, we must continue to invest in infrastructure that mitigates the physical risks posed by climate change — including our natural infrastructure such as wetlands and upland forests; ensure City capital investments take into account the changing climate; and promote programs that protect New Yorkers from the impacts of extreme heat and flooding. To ensure these resiliency strategies keep up with climate science and continue to reflect the most innovative and effective ways to adapt, we will create a Climate Adaptation Roadmap that thoroughly evaluates the climate hazards we face and prioritizes our responses for the decades to come. The transformation to carbon neutrality and climate resiliency will create new jobs and opportunities for New Yorkers. It will require innovation to find less  expensive and more effective solutions; creative financing and financial investment; and partnerships across communities, sectors, geographies, and all levels of government. And to ensure the transition is just and equitable, we will demand that the costs are borne by those most responsible for our climate crisis — and the benefits shared — so no community is left behind.

Our multifaceted strategy for climate readiness and a sustainable, resilient environment is ambitious and far-reaching — as it must be. To safeguard our city now, and for future generations, we have no other choice. Implementation of this strategy requires continued collaboration with the OneNYC Advisory Board, expanded partnerships with community groups, and action by all sectors and levels of government. Together we will bring more voices, tools, and approaches to meet this challenge.

What is a Just Transition?

We are committed to a just transition to carbon neutrality, climate resiliency, and a clean economy — one that improves environmental quality for all, prioritizes front line communities, seeks to redress current and past injustice, and creates economic opportunities for all, while holding those responsible for climate change to account. This philosophy is based on a set of foundational principles developed by organizations with decades of experience fighting for climate and environmental justice worldwide and here in New York City.

A just transition extends beyond our A Livable Climate commitments and can be found throughout OneNYC 2050, as we:

  • Ensure every New Yorker’s voice counts and that everyone can participate equally and vigorously in our democracy
  • Prepare New Yorkers for meaningful work and build pathways to jobs that support our communities in sectors ranging from cybersecurity to mental health care to offshore wind development
  • Explore new models of ownership for all kinds of organizations and systems that generate and keep value in communities
  • Improve the safety, accessibility, and sustainability of our transportation system through continuing efforts such as Vision Zero, and new ones such as congestion pricing
  • Tackle health inequality by building guaranteed access to health care for all New Yorkers, addressing racial, economic, and social inequities in health outcomes, cleaning our air and water, managing the impacts of extreme heat, and expanding access to nature
  • Make sure everyone has access to fresh, healthy food, and build new and better affordable housing
  • Make sure every New York City child gets an excellent education that prepares them to thrive
    in the modern world