NYC paves the path for a better future, encouraging other cities to follow

Earlier this week, New York City became the first city to devise a plan for meeting the goals outlined in the Paris Accord —the world’s first comprehensive climate agreement from which President Trump pledged to pull the U.S. from. The 1.5°C Paris Agreement-compliant climate action plan comes in response to Executive Order 26 (EO26), signed by Mayor de Blasio that reaffirms the city’s commitment to upholding the goals of the Paris Agreement.

The plan identifies specific strategies for reducing GHG emissions necessary to limit global temperature increase to 1.5 degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels, as set forth in the Paris Agreement. Leading the charge is the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability (MOS), which has been moving the city’s decarbonization efforts forward by accelerating the implementation of existing projects launched under the 80 X 50 initiative—a goal of reducing GHG emissions 80 percent by 2050.

This landmark piece of climate leadership is a big deal. It’s evidence that cities aren’t just making bold commitments with no plan of how to achieve them; they’re taking action and setting the processes for how to get there.

Manager, EDF Climate Corps

But getting a city, especially NYC a city with roughly 100 agencies, to meet its goals is tricky. An enormous amount of coordination and engagement is required to ensure all the unique players are aligned on, accountable for and proactive about—especially private citizens and businesses– the sustainability actions they set under 80 x 50. It’s the middle miles (the “execution phase”) that gets complicated, and often requires assistance.

EDF Climate Corps fellow Ryan Moya assisted MOS in coordinating with agencies to identify actions the City must take by 2020 that will align NYC with the Paris Agreement—lending a hand to those middle miles. Priority actions were identified by drawing on previous 80 x 50 analysis and assessing which actions had the greatest potential for GHG reductions in the near and long terms.

[Tweet “NYC’s climate plan: a blueprint for a better future & an example of local govts picking up the slack on reducing GHGs”]

The single largest action the City can take to reduce GHG emissions is through building energy performance mandates. Fossil fuels used for heat and hot water in buildings collectively make up 39% of GHG emissions—the city’s largest source of emissions. That’s why earlier this month Mayor de Blasio announced he is urging the city council to pass a law that would mandate 14,500 buildings to meet fossil fuel standards by 2030.

The mandate will bring NYC closer to reaching its 80 X 50 goals by reducing citywide GHG emissions seven percent by 2030 and providing cleaner, safer air to NYC residents. Not to mention adding 17,000 green jobs to the already growing industry. Under the mandate, the city’s least energy efficient buildings have to replace fossil fuel equipment and install efficiency upgrades to meet energy intensity targets or face penalties. But the mandate isn’t about forcing people to change systems; it’s about reducing the use of fossil fuels. That’s why how they do so is flexible: replace HVAC systems, fix boilers, etc.

What does this mean on a broader scale? NYC is a pilot, giving context for how a city can set, and achieve, science-based objectives. NYC is committing to lead in the development of a global protocol for cities to achieve carbon neutrality by mid-century and have a chance at a 1.5 degree outcome in partnership with C40 and other lead cities. By mirroring NYC’s tangible solutions and incorporating unique, case-specific steps, cities across the country can take charge and put forward short-term actions necessary to meeting their long-term climate goals.

Follow Ellen on Twitter, @ellenshenette

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