OneNYC 2050 : Volume 7 of 9 : A Livable Climate

Achieve Carbon Neutrality And 100 Percent Clean Electricity

New York City is committed to achieving carbon neutrality by 2050, and will do so in a just and equitable way. By 2050, New York City will have net-zero GHG emissions citywide. To achieve this, we will reduce our emissions as much as possible and offset our “irreducible emissions,” — those that are not feasible to eliminate — with projects that create negative emissions outside New York City. As detailed in 1.5°C: Aligning New York City with the Paris Climate Agreement, achieving  carbon neutrality requires a shift away from fossil fuels. This means receiving electricity that comes from 100 percent clean sources. We will also maximize opportunities for energy efficiency in all buildings, and replace systems that provide heat and hot water for our buildings with efficient electric systems or other GHG-free thermal systems.

Carbon neutrality also requires getting more people out of cars and onto public transit, bikes, or sidewalks, and supporting the transition from gasoline-powered to EVs for remaining vehicles (see more in Efficient Mobility). Additionally, although waste makes up a relatively small portion of our total GHG emissions, carbon neutrality necessitates New York City achieving zero waste. It also requires investment in natural spaces that can act as carbon sinks within the city, the region, and globally to accelerate emissions reductions and address the sources of emissions that cannot be eliminated with technology. And although many of the technologies to make the shift to carbon neutrality already exist today, we will need lower-cost and more-efficient technologies for everything from air-source heat pumps to electric buses.

As we chart the steps needed to achieve carbon neutrality, we must ensure the transition is fair and equitable in terms of the cost and burden to people and communities, and that we create good-paying jobs and continue to support the economic vitality that enables us to make our city strong and fair. The City will have to act both inside our borders and at the state, regional, and federal levels. We must inspire all New Yorkers to participate in this ambitious, once-in-a-generation commitment in order to ensure a livable climate and a better future.

ACHIEVING carbon NEUTRALITY in cities 101

Why carbon neutrality?

In 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report detailing how crucial it is to limit global warming to 1.5°C, and confirming that, to do this, we must collectively pursue strategies to achieve major greenhouse gas emissions reductions ahead of 2030 and reach carbon neutrality as soon as possible.

What is A Carbon Neutral city?

A carbon neutral city generates net-zero greenhouse gas emissions in all of the sectors it reports on, including — at a minimum — net-zero emissions in the buildings, energy, transportation, and waste sectors.

What are the benefits and opportunities?

Carbon neutrality is essential to limiting the impacts of climate change on water and food scarcity, living standards, and human health for generations to come. It also presents a massive opportunity to create more equitable and prosperous cities. Benefits of a net-zero carbon economy include better health and life expectancy of residents, improved air quality, higher productivity and job creation, and more walkable and livable cities.

How can cities become carbon neutral?

Cities should work with local communities to develop and implement:

Ambitious climate action plans that reduce emissions and achieve zero or near-zero emissions by a target year

Strategies to compensate for any residual emissions such as the use of high quality carbon credits to bring net emissions to zero

One carbon credit represents one metric ton of carbon dioxide equivalent that is avoided or removed from the atmosphere through a project that is outside of a city’s emissions inventory boundary. Credits are issued for projects such as planting new forests or capturing and destroying methane emissions from farms. Projects must follow strict environmental integrity principles to ensure the credits they generate are valid.

New York City is leading the way

In 2017, New York City partnered with C40 to establish a working group of cities to develop the guidance document Defining Carbon Neutrality for Cities & Managing Residual Emissions, which establishes a shared definition of citywide carbon neutrality, and provides guidance and best practices for approaches that cities can take to achieve carbon neutrality.

Chart of emissions for base year and target year.

After all strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions have been exhausted, “residual emissions” may still remain. Carbon credits play an important role on the path to carbon neutrality. They address residual emissions and accelerate emissions reductions, while longer-term infrastructural, regulatory, and economic changes take place.

Source: Defining Carbon Neutrality for Cities & Managing Residual Emissions: Cities’ Perspective & Guidance

Case Study: Solar Uptown Now

It’s hard to know exactly what the world will look like in 2050, but New Yorkers got a preview in 2018 when two innovative solar projects launched on affordable housing buildings in Crown Heights and Northern Manhattan. The first, an installation of solar and heat pumps at an affordable co-op in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, was supported by the City’s Community Retrofit Program and nonprofits Solar One and the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board (UHAB). The 100 solar panels will generate electricity that will provide solar credits on the utility bills of the individual shareholders in the co-op. This may be the first affordable co-op in New York City to use a Community Shared Solar model to provide the benefits of solar directly to low- and moderate-income households, and demonstrates a model for deploying advanced energy efficiency technologies in affordable housing. In Northern Manhattan, WE ACT for Environmental Justice, UHAB, and Solar One organized Solar Uptown Now, a campaign that installed solar arrays across nine rooftops of affordable buildings in Northern Manhattan, reaching 900 residents. These panels will provide over $1 million in lifetime electricity savings across the nine participating buildings. More than 90 community residents received solar installation training through the campaign, and the solar partners on the project hired five job trainees to install the solar arrays.

Photograph of Solar Uptown Now campaign installing solar arrays across Northern Manhattan rooftops.

The Solar Uptown Now campaign installed solar arrays across Northern Manhattan rooftops.
Source: WE ACT for Environmental Justice

Ensure 100 Percent Clean Electricity Resources

Achieving carbon neutrality requires a shift to renewable energy from many sources — from rooftop solar energy generation and utility-scale renewables to building- and grid-scale energy storage. Our work to green the grid is necessary to achieve deeper reductions in GHG emissions across our building, transportation, and waste sectors. A clean, resilient electricity grid will improve air quality for residents throughout New York City, support the electrification of building heating and hot water systems, and increase the resiliency of our electricity supply.

Today, the city’s electricity is generated by natural gas, as well as nuclear, hydropower, and wind and solar resources from upstate regions. While half of our electricity is generated within city limits, electricity generated outside New York City reaches the city through a network of high-voltage transmission power lines, the majority of which come through the northern part of the city. Once it gets to New York City, electricity travels through a distribution grid composed of underground and above-ground equipment owned and operated by Con Edison to reach the end user.

New York State has committed to 100 percent clean electricity by 2040. This means the deployment of wind, both upstate and offshore, as well as solar power, must expand rapidly in the next 20 years, and will need to be complemented by a significant expansion in energy storage. At the same time, the transition to clean electricity must drive down the energy cost burden. Almost half a million families living in New York City are currently over the state’s target for spending on energy bills.

Attaining a clean electricity future, however, is constrained by the available transmission capacity directly connected into New York City. Almost all of the renewables currently deployed in New York are located upstate, but the power lines that bring clean electricity from upstate to New York City are at capacity, so very little can reach the city. In order to open up our grid to existing and new renewables, we will need to build more transmission into New York City in cooperation with New York State, the New York Power Authority, and the New York Independent System Operator.

While we are working in coordination with our state, regional, and market partners to expand transmission capacity and increase large-scale renewable energy generation, we will continue to expand renewable generation at the local level by both making it easier to install energy storage and accelerating the expansion of solar on rooftops across the city. We have a long history of generating renewable gas from our city’s wastewater and are now starting to generate renewable gas from our organic waste. Greening the grid and ensuring 100 percent clean electricity resources by 2040 will pave the way for deeper reductions in GHG emissions in buildings, in addition to the transportation and waste sectors, all while creating jobs locally.

New York City solar deployment has grown exponentially since the start of 2014.

Source: MOS

Bar graph displaying New York City solar deployment pre-2012 to 2018.

  • Directly connect New York City to large-scale renewable resources
    We envision a 50 percent renewable electricity grid by 2030. To make this a reality, the City will need to access large-scale renewables — like solar, hydropower, and on- and offshore wind — from outside the city’s boundaries. As one key initial step, the City, in coordination with New York State, will pursue an investment in new transmission to access large-scale Canadian hydropower at a competitive price, resulting in a 100 percent carbon-free electricity supply for City government operations. At the same time, policies and programs must continue to drive down the high energy cost burden borne by low-income New Yorkers.
  • Unlock 500 MW of battery storage citywide
    Energy storage resources will be required to balance the intermittent nature of renewable power generation, and we want to have 500 MW of storage available by 2025. To help accelerate the growth of this sector, the City will commit to permitting all small and medium installations within 12 months or less by 2020.
  • Scale clean distributed energy and load management for efficient distribution
    Building on our sevenfold increase in solar capacity since the start of 2014, we will continue to promote solar and other distributed energy generation in the city. We will require more solar and green roof installations on new construction citywide, expand accelerator programs to assist building owners with clean energy projects and the solar installation process, and continue to work with our utility and market partners to implement demand response and load management tools. We will also continue to maximize solar potential on the rooftops of City-owned buildings (see more in Modern Infrastructure)
Pursue Deep Cuts In Emissions And Gains In Efficiency Across All Buildings And Infrastructure

We have made progress since 2015 in reducing GHG emissions in residential and commercial buildings, with more than 5,000 privately-owned buildings assisted by the Retrofit Accelerator and Community Retrofit NYC programs, reducing 95,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent. Buildings, however, still represent roughly 70 percent of the city’s GHG emissions profile; our buildings—old and new—will need to change dramatically in order to achieve carbon neutrality. The City will expand our initiatives to support deep energy retrofits in nearly every building in New York City, as well as require new buildings to eliminate their carbon emissions footprint. This includes buildings with inefficient glass facades. Existing glass-walled buildings will be required to dramatically improve performance, in line with the City’s mandates, and we will not allow all-glass facades in new construction, unless they meet strict new performance guidelines. Together, these actions will make inefficient glass-heavy building designs a relic of the past. And to help ensure that every building in New York City is able to participate in the transition to carbon neutrality, we will increase technical assistance programs and the availability of financing.

Buildings account for two-thirds of New York City’s GHG emissions.

GHG emissions by Sector

Pie chart displaying GHG emissions by Sector

  • Implement citywide energy efficiency and intensity mandate
    In 2017, the City recognized that voluntary action was not sufficient and proposed mandatory energy use limits for existing buildings. The City is now working with City Council to implement legislative requirements to dramatically cut emissions in buildings over 25,000 square feet. We will then continue to protect affordability while expanding the benefits of energy efficiency upgrades to all buildings including affordable housing units and buildings smaller than the previously mandated threshold. To ensure every building has flexibility to meet the mandates, the City will study and launch an emissions trading regime. This first-of-its-kind program will provide an alternate pathway for mandate compliance while encouraging building owners to achieve even deeper savings than required by law.
  • Require new buildings be built to net-zero energy
    Local Law 32 of 2017 introduced performance-based stretch-energy codes that require new construction be built to the latest energy efficiency standards. To meet the commitment of the Net-Zero Buildings Declaration, signed alongside 19 global cities in 2018, we will continue to work toward net-zero energy for all newly constructed buildings by 2030. The City will also pursue legislation to further regulate glass-walled buildings.
  • Achieve deep emissions reductions from City-owned buildings
    We will continue to lead by example and reduce GHG emissions using a portfolio-based approach for City buildings. Through creative and ambitious energy efficiency, clean energy, and innovative technology projects and programs, the City has already achieved a 30 percent reduction from 2005 levels across our building portfolio, and will achieve a 50 percent reduction from City-owned buildings and operations by 2030 on the path to carbon neutral buildings.
  • Reach net-zero energy across city wastewater resource recovery facilities
    The City will continue to implement deep energy-saving measures, increase the production of renewable gas through digestion of wastewater and organic waste, and generate renewable electricity to reach net-zero energy for treatment of wastewater by 2050.
  • Increase the capacity of technical and financial assistance programs
    The City will triple the capacity of the Retrofit Accelerator and Community Retrofit NYC programs to include new construction, smaller buildings, more neighborhoods, and support for deeper energy retrofits. These programs provide technical assistance and guidance to help building owners upgrade their systems, identify incentives, connect with qualified contractors, and train building operators. We will also strengthen the City’s Green Housing and Preservation Program, which provides low- or no-interest loans to finance energy efficiency improvements.
  • Make Property-Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing available in New York City
    The City will work with City Council and local financial institutions to enable property owners to access PACE financing, a low-cost mechanism for making energy-efficiency upgrades that is available in states and cities across the country.
Promote Sustainable Transportation Options
Adopting EVs will help New York City achieve carbon neutrality.

Source: DCAS

Infographic highlighting EV changes for the City fleet.

A clean, safe, and affordable energy-efficient transportation network is critical to reaching our GHG-reduction goal. To achieve a carbon neutral transportation system, we will need to reduce our dependence on cars and ensure all transportation needs — including, but not limited to, commuting and freight — shift to more sustainable alternatives. We must reach an 80 percent sustainable mode share — trips completed via walking, biking, or transit — for commuting by 2050, and reduce or eliminate emissions for the remaining trips through the widespread adoption of alternative-fuel vehicles. This will require an expansion of electric charging networks for all types of vehicles, a reimagining of our streetscapes to encourage further shifts away from single-occupancy vehicles, and working with major employers and institutions to manage transportation. Even the way goods move around the city will need to change: Zero or near-zero emission vehicles will serve the city’s freight needs, complementing the use of barges, rail, and last mile “micromobility” options such as cargo bicycles.

See Efficient Mobility and Modern Infrastructure for a comprehensive vision for a safer, more-accessible, and more-sustainable citywide transportation system. Key commitments include:

  • Develop a citywide network of EV charging infrastructure
    In order to encourage EV adoption, we will increase the number of publicly available EV chargers across the five boroughs by installing a network of fast charging stations on City-owned property and piloting curbside Level 2 charging in partnership with Con Edison.
  • Reduce the City’s municipal fleet and lower emissions
    The City is making smart reforms to our municipal fleet, capitalizing on emerging technology and transportation trends to reduce the number and size of City vehicles and vehicle miles traveled, thereby reducing emissions, and by 2040, the City fleet will be carbon neutral. Near term emissions reductions will be achieved by implementing renewable diesel fuel, accelerating the transition to EV and hybrid vehicles, and increasing the efficiency of the fleet. Longer-term reductions will rely on achieving a 100 percent clean electricity grid and encouraging technological advances for emergency response and other heavy vehicles.
  • Incentivize commercial and fleet vehicles to reduce emissions
    We will explore dedicated curb space for zero-emission vehicles, expand clean truck programs, and use advanced sensing for vehicle air pollution. We will encourage operators to upgrade their fleet vehicles to the most efficient models available. The City will also leverage funding allocated by the Volkswagen settlement to promote diesel-to-electric replacements of commercial vehicles.
  • Establish commercial waste zones
    Commercial waste zoning will reduce truck traffic associated with commercial waste collection by more than 50 percent, with corresponding air quality and GHG emissions improvements. It will also give the City additional tools to promote zero waste, enforce existing laws, ensure safety and worker rights, and advance the City’s efficient transportation goals, while creating high-quality, low-cost waste management services. To do this, we will reform the City’s commercial waste collection system and associated regulatory framework. We will also continue to expand the types of establishments covered under the City’s commercial organics law, with the goal of covering all potential categories.
New York City needs to lead the way by changing its energy sources to be more sustainable. We’ve started the process, and are setting the example for the rest of the country.
– Resident of Kensington, Brooklyn
Adopt Zero Waste Management Strategies Citywide

Waste comprises an important part of the City’s GHG emission profile. When our organic trash goes to landfill, it decomposes and generates methane, a greenhouse gas roughly 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide. The farther we have to transport our trash to landfills, the more emissions are generated. Conversely, our carbon footprint will shrink if we reduce the amount of waste generated by New Yorkers, and encourage sustainable products that can be more easily recycled at their end of life.

While New Yorkers produce less waste than ever before, a large percentage of what we send to landfills could be diverted to beneficial use and support our climate mitigation goals. The City’s 2017 Waste Characterization Study shows that if every New Yorker recycled and composted perfectly, we could divert 68 percent of our trash from landfills. Recycled paper, cardboard, metal, glass, and plastic are used in the manufacturing of new products. Organic material, food scraps, and yard waste are turned into compost — a natural soil amendment that improves soil health — and renewable energy (including electricity, heat, and fuel) through anaerobic digestion.

Through our Zero Waste initiatives, we have implemented the country’s largest curbside organics program, providing organics collection to more than 3.5 million New Yorkers, or more than a third of the city. We have increased the citywide residential diversion rate to over 20 percent — and we are recycling more than ever. We are using the power of policy to hold product manufacturers accountable for sustainable design choices, including a ban on foam products, which have widely available recyclable alternatives.

Despite these successes, we continue to face local, regional, and global challenges to our Zero Waste goals. Our population continues to grow and produce more trash, even as our per capita waste generation goes down. Global recycling markets are also experiencing a period of instability that has left some municipalities with no other option than to send their recyclables to landfills. In New York City, past investments in recycling infrastructure have allowed our program to remain strong; however, we need to be creative and committed, and have the participation of all New Yorkers, to reach our goal.

Transition to mandatory organics collection citywide The City will pursue expanding the country’s largest organics management program, including curbside pickup, drop-off sites, and support for community composting opportunities, by working with the City Council to establish mandatory organics recycling citywide — phasing in starting in low- and medium-density areas that already have access to organics collection and expanding over time to include the entire city — so that all New Yorkers can participate. We will also increase the diversion of organics from commercial establishments. Organics will continue to be used for compost and energy production.

Develop regional organics processing capacity to handle 1 million tons of food and yard waste per year
We will increase our capacity to process organics both inside and outside the city, working with our agencies and private-sector partners to process organics for beneficial use. Some organic wastes can be processed into renewable natural gas using digesters, whereas others can continue to be turned into soil amendments or compost for use in our parks, green infrastructure, landscaping, street trees, gardens, and farms.

Reach zero waste across New York City government operations
The City will lead by example and implement sustainable waste management strategies and operations in City buildings, facilities, and programs. We will add organics collection service at all agencies, design buildings for zero waste in all new construction, leverage procurement requirements to minimize the purchase of non-divertible goods, maximize capture rates of recyclables at City agencies, and beneficially use our biosolids.

Maximize the diversion of traditional recyclables, textiles, and other products
New Yorkers throw away about half of their recyclables — and 10 percent of the waste stream consists of textiles and other products that could be diverted to beneficial use. For example, we throw away nearly 200,000 tons of textile waste citywide per year, at great cost to both taxpayers and our environment. We will provide universal access to programs to divert these materials and motivate New Yorkers through education and outreach. We will also pursue increased compliance through expanded enforcement. At the same time, we will strengthen demand for these recyclable items by working with manufacturers to use recycled content in new products. We will also expand the use of extended producer-responsibility measures to keep more products out of our landfills and continue to reduce the amount of non-recyclable products in our waste stream. We will work with our City and State partners to implement a ban on single-use plastic bags and a fee on paper bags.

Transition New York City toward a circular economy
New York City will become a center of excellence for sustainable product design by partnering with the private sector to design and market products that are reusable, repairable, or recyclable. We will create incentives and infrastructure for city businesses and consumers to use recycled materials to support the growth of closed-loop recycling. Through the power of policy, advocacy, procurement, and regulation, we will take a leadership role in driving brands and product manufacturers to design for returnability, reusability, repairability, recyclability, and compostability. We will also expand the use of extended producer-responsibility measures to keep more products out of our landfills. We will raise consumer awareness, explore new business models, and incorporate technological innovations.


In our current linear economy, manufacturers operate in the “take-make-dispose” model, in which they use finite resources to create products that are disposed of after a limited life. This system has contributed to negative consequences including air and water pollution, deforestation, depletion of natural resources, creation of landfills, and loss of biodiversity.

We have seen these impacts on a local level, as New York City has run out of landfills and begun the costly practice of transporting disposed waste. Meanwhile, China, formerly the recipient of much of the recyclable and scrap material from the United States, has placed a ban on the importation of disposed waste, shifting the responsibility back to the local level.    

This has, in part, prompted a global systemic shift toward the circular economy, a model that goes beyond recycling to reduce or eliminate waste — even before it is set out for collection —  through reuse, innovative and intentional business models, technology, and design. In the circular economy framework, materials are valued throughout their lifecycle and  kept in use longer. The circular economy model will not only help the City achieve its goals, it presents an opportunity for economic growth and job creation.

Support Every New Yorker In The Shift To A More Sustainable Lifestyle

Carbon neutrality is an “all-hands-on-deck” effort requiring collaboration, hard work, creativity, and ingenuity from individuals and organizations. We will work with existing and new partners from communities, corporations, and all sectors of civil society to create a just and accessible carbon neutral future. To help New Yorkers participate in the transition to carbon neutrality, we will build on the progress made so far and expand successful efforts.

  • Expand the GreeNYC Program to maximize civic action and encourage more New Yorkers to live sustainably
    GreeNYC, which supports resident behaviors that reduce emissions, will be expanded to include single-use plastics and other nonrecyclable or non-compostable waste, as well as awareness and behavior-change campaigns to support residents
    as they transition to EVs, and implement building energy efficiency measures.
  • Expand the scope of the NYC Carbon Challenge to further engage the private sector
    The NYC Carbon Challenge, which partners with New York City institutions in committing to lowering their emissions beyond what’s legally required, has so far reduced 600,000 metric tons of GHG emissions. To achieve greater impact, the program will be expanded to measure additional sources of emissions, including transportation and waste, and will consider expansion to new building categories not currently represented in the Challenge.
  • Adopt more sustainable consumption practices in City government operations
    The City will shift away from goods that have an outsized impact on the environment and identify opportunities to reduce waste and cut GHG emissions throughout City government. Through updates to our Environmentally Preferable Purchasing (EPP) and executive action, we are ending the purchasing of unnecessary single-use plastic foodware, reducing the purchasing of beef, and phasing out the purchasing of processed meat.
    Single-use plastic foodware — including straws, cutlery, cups, plates, bowls, and trays — are designed to be used once and then thrown away. These petroleum-based products are a threat to our neighborhoods, waterways, and climate. The City is ending the purchasing of unnecessary single-use plastic foodware, switching to compostable, reusable, or recyclable alternatives while maintaining a sufficient supply of single-use plastic foodware for those who need it. And we will work with City Council to expand these requirements to private businesses.Building on the success of implementing Meatless Mondays at all New York City public schools, the City will reduce the purchasing of beef by 50 percent. Beef has a relatively high environmental footprint compared to poultry, pork, and plant-based foods. Beef cattle, managing manure, and manufacturing fertilizer produces nitrous oxide and methane, two climate-warming pollutants 298 and 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide, respectively. Processed meat consumption is linked with increased risk of cancer and is often high in saturated fat and sodium which is linked with heart disease. This policy would offer health benefits to the most vulnerable New Yorkers.
  • Expand opportunities for climate and sustainability literacy for educators and students
    The City will support local programs, organizations, and our agencies to expand climate and sustainability education resources in schools, including professional learning and curriculum development or alignment. Building on successful efforts such as Solar Schools curricula and youth climate summits, we will leverage and promote resources, programming, and events to engage and empower youth in climate action.

Lower Manhattan coastal resiliency

In March 2019, New York City released the first-ever comprehensive study of climate risks to Lower Manhattan, one of the city’s most important economic centers and the home to a growing number of residents. By the year 2100, 20 percent of streets in Lower Manhattan will be exposed to daily tidal flooding, and storm surge will continue to pose a widespread and severe threat to the area.

As a result of this study, the City is advancing approximately $500 million in flood-risk-reduction projects in the Two Bridges neighborhood, The Battery, and Battery Park City, covering 70 percent of the Lower Manhattan shoreline. The City will deploy Interim Flood Protection Measures in the Seaport and parts of the Financial District and Two Bridges neighborhoods in time for the 2019 hurricane season.

In the low-lying and highly constrained Seaport and Financial District, which represent the remaining 30 percent of the Lower Manhattan coast, land-based adaptation measures were found to be technically infeasible. To protect these neighborhoods from sea level rise, coastal storms, and other climate threats, the City is moving forward with an ambitious plan to extend the shoreline into the East River. This will create a new piece of land with high points at or above 20 feet from the current sea level. The exact extent of the new shoreline, along with the design and construction of this innovative flood protection system, will be determined through an extensive public engagement process.

New York City is advancing multiple projects to protect Lower Manhattan from flooding.

Map displaying Lower Manhattan's resiliency plans