OUR CLIMATE PLATFORM

POLICY CONTRIBUTORS, WRITERS, & EDITORS

POLICY CONTRIBUTORS

  • Maritza Silva-Farrell, ALIGN: The Alliance for a Greater New York
  • Lynda Nguyen, ALIGN: The Alliance for a Greater New York
  • Annel Hernandez, (formerly) NYC Environmental Justice Alliance
  • Carlos Garcia, (formerly)  NYC Environmental Justice Alliance
  • Eddie Bautista, NYC Environmental Justice Alliance


WRITERS

  • Alan Abraham
  • Hamza Taj
  • Shubh Thakkar
  • Samaah Saifullah
  • Ellie Baron
  • Lynn Yellen
  • Elijah Rockhold
  • Arielle El-Amin
  • Rami Sigal
  • Annie Benjamin
  • Michael Sutherland
  • Alex Hunter


EDITORS

  • Alan Abraham
  • Zara Nasir
  • Josie Steuer Ingall
  • Zarin Farook
  • Michael Sutherland
  • Meg Jones
A VISION FORWARD

All New Yorkers should be able to live in a city that is safe and here to stay, not threatened by drastic or ongoing environmental disasters that affect our collective health and safety. This is especially true for the Black, indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) that have faced decades of environmental racism that has translated to poor health outcomes and disproportionately high rates of respiratory and heart disease. Environmental racism has affected every facet of the lives of New Yorkers of color; from the green spaces available in their neighborhoods to the green jobs and resources available to their communities. The City must prioritize low-income neighborhoods and communities of color in their struggle for environmental justice, and invest in green energy, jobs, waste processing, infrastructure, and resiliency to meet critical climate mandates and ensure our safe collective future in this city. 

POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS

1) Invest in clean and renewable energy systems and community ownership

Environmental racism and classism affects the health outcomes and lives of millions of New Yorkers of color each year. According to a 2008 study of children aged 1-6 years, those exposed to chronically high ozone levels were significantly more likely to develop asthma. Even stronger associations were found among younger children and those of lower socioeconomic status. New York has since implemented procedures over a seven year period which reduced various pollutant levels (individually) by between 24 and 37 percent; however, further action to reduce localized emissions is urgently needed to improve air quality.

1A. Replace fossil fuel polluting “Peaker Plants” with clean energy storage systems by 2025

Problem: New York’s power grid is unable to meet increasing electricity demands. Highly polluting fossil fuel power plants known as “peaker plants” were established in response. Their mechanism of action is to burn coal, oil, or natural gas which introduces toxic pollutants like sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, ozone and lead into the atmosphere. Sulfur dioxide exhaust is particularly noxious due to its link with acid precipitation, which damages vegetation and acidifies lakes. Prolonged exposure to pollutants has well-documented detrimental effects on city inhabitants.

Recommendation: Proper government support for initiatives such as the PEAK Coalition, spearheaded by UPROSE, THE POINT CDC, New York City Environmental Justice Alliance (NYC-EJA), New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (NYLPI), and Clean Energy Group (CEG). This project addresses the lack of action from the City and State to displace local, highly polluting fossil fuel power plants. The Coalition is advocating for a system of localized renewable energy generation and battery storage to replace peaker plants, a reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, lower energy bills and making the electricity system more resilient in the face of increased storms and climate impacts. Peaker plants should be replaced with large-scale energy storage systems (ESSs), solar and battery storage systems, and virtual power plants. PEAK urges the City to fulfill its OneNYC2050 pledge to provide 500MW of available battery storage by 2025.

Office: Mayor, City Council

Mechanism: Budget, Mayoral and/or Agency Policy, Oversight and/or Auditing

1B. Divest pension funds from fossil-fuel industries, and reinvest into local businesses

Problem: In 2021, the City divested several pension funds’ portfolios from securities related to the fossil fuel industry. According to the Office of the New York City Comptroller, “[former] Mayor Bill de Blasio, [former] Comptroller Scott M. Stringer, along with trustees of two of the City’s pension funds, today announced these funds have voted to divest their portfolios of an estimated $4 billion from securities related to fossil fuel companies.”  These divestments are significant, as they shift money away from the fossil fuel industry and begin to address the financial and environmental risks that fossil fuel firms pose. However, the $4 billion divested is just a small fraction of the total number of pension assets managed by the Office of the Comptroller: according to Reuters, the Office of the Comptroller manages over $240 billion in pension assets. 

Recommendation: The City must continue to further divest pension funds from fossil-fuel industries.  Although the $4 billion divested in January of 2021 is a significant amount of money, the City must continue these efforts to address the environmental impact of fossil fuel companies.  Continuing to divest from fossil fuels will ensure that financial and social pressure will be placed on fossil-fuel companies, who are overwhelmingly responsible for climate change.  Furthermore, the pension funds divested from these firms must be reinvested into small and local businesses rather than large corporations. 

Office: Comptroller

Mechanism: Budget, Oversight and/or Auditing

1C. Invest in the City’s physical infrastructure for renewable energy

Problem: According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, the City of New York currently obtains about 28 percent of its electricity through renewable means.  In order to hit the State of New York’s goal of obtaining 70 percent of electricity through renewable means, the City will need to invest heavily in clean energy sources.  According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the State’s main sources of energy include natural gas, nuclear power, and hydroelectricity, and substantial investments need to be made towards other forms of renewable energy to hit that benchmark.  It is important to note that the City’s electricity infrastructure is antiquated and inefficient, which poses challenges in utilizing already-existing infrastructure. Richard Kauffman, the Chairman of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, states “we have a system which is energy-inefficient because it was never designed to be efficient” in a recent New York Times interview. 

Recommendation: The City of New York must make substantial investments in the physical infrastructure of renewable energy.  This primarily involves scaling up in-state renewable energy generation: according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, a lot of New York’s electricity comes from the power grids of neighboring states.  Physical infrastructure for renewable energy can include, but is not limited to hydroelectric plants, wind energy plants, and solar energy plants. In addition, making investments in renewable energy will also lead to the creation of thousands of stable jobs, according to the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance. Investing in physical infrastructure for renewable energy will ensure that the City meets state benchmarks for clean energy, reduce pollution, and create sustainable careers for the City’s residents.

Office: Mayor, City Council

Mechanism: Budget, Mayoral and/or Agency Policy

1D. Invest in a climate and community development fund to support local climate projects

Problem: A significant portion of the City’s housing is struggling to achieve energy efficiency. The New York City Environmental Justice Alliance notes public housing and older private housing, which houses mostly tenants of color, tends to require higher baseline consumption of energy due to these buildings being older and more inefficient. Many of these tenants also pay a higher proportion of their income on energy costs. These low-income residents are often excluded from green energy financing programs and do not have the resources to implement green climate infrastructure in their communities. 

Recommendation: Investing in a Climate and Community Development Fund will allow for more support on climate projects in public housing developments across all 51 council districts. The amount of funding allocated should depend on the district needs criteria such as income, exposure to environmental pollution, energy grid vulnerabilities, among other factors, and should be determined through these key climate metrics. According to the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance, these large-scale investments into energy efficiency and other climate projects can help to transform and revitalize New York City’s neighborhoods. When coordinated with other districts, the City can maximize cost efficiencies through bulk purchasing of materials, leverage additional funding opportunities through federal and state programs, and preserve affordable and public housing for decades to come. The Fund will help to reduce the energy burden on low-income residents who are already facing rising utility costs and exposure to extreme temperatures from the effects of climate change. 

Office: Mayor, City Council

Mechanism: Budget, Mayoral and/or Agency Policy

1E. Support community ownership around solar and other forms of renewable energy

Problem: According to the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance, historically, people of color and other marginalized communities have been excluded from ownership and power in various sectors of the economy, especially in the newly established renewable energy sector. Because of New York City’s population density and unique topography, citing large-scale renewable energy projects is extremely difficult and costly.  According to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, low-income households of color spend much more of their income on energy costs compared to higher-income households, Black or Latinx neighborhoods also have significantly fewer rooftop solar installations on average, and face greater barriers for community solar ownership. As new city- and state-level mandates help transition New York towards more renewable infrastructure, the state should find ways to help include communities that have been neglected from decision-making in previous economic structures.

Recommendation: According to the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance, building up new economic structures requires changes from both the local and citywide levels. New York should ensure that community-based organizations and New Yorkers of color have a stake in the growing renewable energy industry. Community-owned solar projects can help prioritize greater reduction in monthly utility costs while publicly-owned projects can initiate storage projects that help provide backup solar power during emergencies. These projects can help residents who do not own their living space, possess strong credit scores or have adequate roof space to invest in the solar industry and receive credit on their electricity bill for solar power. The City must create a community solar program that provides financial incentives and financing options for the installation of new grid-connected solar panels, specifically to previously excluded communities who need it most.

Office: Mayor, City Council

Mechanism: Budget, Mayoral and/or Agency Policy

1F. Invest in equitable electric vehicle (EV) infrastructure citywide and for city fleets

Problem: Transportation is the second largest source of emissions in NYC, as reported by NYC Climate Justice Agenda. To curb emissions, in an Executive Order from February 2020, the Mayor declared that the public bus fleet will be fully electric by 2040. Additionally, NYC Climate Justice Agenda states that the City has committed to placing Electric Vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure on City-owned land. The city further aims to have 20 percent of its motor vehicle purchases be electric by 2050 and to have 20 percent EV registrations by 2025, according to a NYS Department of Transportation report. Overall, the City must do more to expand the use of EVs in an equitable way. This includes releasing an update on the NYC Department of Transportation’s (DOT) EV charging pilot program, which was supposed to run from spring of 2018 to spring of 2020, according to NYC Climate Justice Agenda.

Recommendation: The City should take numerous steps to invest in equitable electric vehicle (EV) infrastructure, according to NYC Climate Justice Agenda. For instance, the City should do more to increase access to private EVs. This is critical because, while the City is taking important steps to have 2,000 EVs in the City fleet, private vehicles are responsible for 90 percent of all transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions. Additionally, the City should ensure that the EV charging stations are placed equitably throughout New York City. Currently, charging stations are mainly in Manhattan. Further, the City should focus on curbing emissions in communities that have been disproportionately affected by poor air quality due to high amounts of pollution from transportation. To do this, the City could partner with NYCHA to install charging stations in public housing parking lots.

Office: Mayor, City Council

Mechanism: Budget, Mayoral and/or Agency Policy, Oversight and/or Auditing

2) Create green jobs through a local climate stimulus package

In September 2020, more than 648,000 New Yorkers were out of work, according to the Climate Works for All coalition. Communities of color dealt with unemployment at disproportionate rates. Current environmental policies also place low-income communities and communities of color at risk of facing environmental racism and the concomitant health effects. As opportunities arise to guide New Yorkers out of the economic difficulties of the pandemic, these realities must be acknowledged in economic frameworks and job creation priority should be given to endeavors that would address environmental racism and support the urgent needs of the climate industry. 

2A. Address environmental racism through comprehensive and community planning

Problem: The City has historically located pollution-generating facilities in neighborhoods of color through land use actions. These planning decisions have resulted in high amounts of air pollution in these communities, amounting to environmental racism. This air pollution has led to disproportionate rates of respiratory and heart disease in these communities, which increases their vulnerability to viruses like COVID-19. The 2013 New York City Community Air Survey notes that low-income neighborhoods bear 55 percent of the burden of hospital admissions for ozone-related asthma and 56 percent of emergency department visits among children. These health implications have long-term consequences for low-income children and people of color.

Recommendation: The City should use a comprehensive planning framework to address climate infrastructure and equity in neighborhoods hit hardest by environmental racism. According to the Thriving Communities Coalition, the City must start with an analysis of racial and socio-economic disparities in terms of environmental health outcomes on a neighborhood basis. The City must then support community-led planning to ensure the inclusion of populations that have routinely been neglected in the planning process. The Mayor’s Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability would oversee the public engagement process, which would aim to eliminate disparities in resource allocation across neighborhoods and focus on continued equitable engagement with vulnerable communities in particular.

Office: Mayor, City Council

Mechanism: Budget, Mayoral and/or Agency Policy, Land Use Action, City Legislation

2B. Subsidize wages through a climate and community development fund

Problem: The COVID-19 crisis ravaged the most vulnerable New Yorkers the most. Low-income communities in the City are battling parallel crises of the climate and the economy. According to the Climate Works for All coalition, an analysis done by the Community Service Society estimated that as of June 2020, the citywide unemployment rate was 21.1 percent among Asian residents; 23.7 percent among Black residents; and 22.7 percent among Latinx residents; compared to just 13.9 percent among white New Yorkers. As the climate crisis worsens, so too will economic injustice, environmental racism, and public health disparities. The City must prioritize and invest in climate adaptation, mitigation, and recovery measures among the most impacted communities. 

Recommendation: Per the New York City Climate Justice Agenda, investing in a Climate and Community Development Fund (CCDF), which would be distributed across all 51 council districts, would support energy efficiency and other climate projects in affordable and public housing developments. A CCDF Program should subsidize wages and attach pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship labor standards to ensure that trained candidates are lined up from low-income communities and communities of color. Connecting industry, union, and pre-apprenticeship training programs with community-based environmental organizations will ensure that qualified candidates are connected to the career pathways from a robust energy efficiency sector. 

Office: Mayor, City Council

Mechanism: Budget, Mayoral and/or Agency Policy

2C. Invest in workforce development and training programs that help connect New Yorkers to the climate industry

Problem: The Ella Baker Center stresses the importance of creating opportunities for the “middle-skill jobs” that employ people who do not have college degrees. With the passage of landmark climate legislation at both the state- (CLCPA) and city-level (Local Law 97), New York City faces a real opportunity for job growth in the climate industry. Buildings produce 67 percent of greenhouse gas emissions and the law requires large buildings to sharply reduce emissions with targets in 2030 and 2050. While The City reported that NYC lost 400,000 manufacturing jobs since March 2020, retrofitting and construction jobs will require recruitment and training of workers in building services as well as engineers, architects, and those who install building systems. However, the disparate effects of COVID and the economic downturn intersect with a long history of environmental racism and limited economic opportunity, as unemployment rates among Black, Latinx, and Asian New Yorkers are over seven percent higher than those for white residents.  

Recommendation: Investing in workforce development programs like union-affiliated pre-apprenticeships and apprenticeships will expand access for women, low-income New Yorkers, and other traditionally underrepresented workers in the trades to prepare and train them for careers across the clean energy sectors. In order for workforce development to be effective, New York City needs to work with, and invest in, unions and organizations that are actively working with communities of color and other emerging communities to train workers for the current and future needs of the sustainability industry. The City must also track necessary equity measures, like local hiring and prevailing wages, to ensure workers are working with good union contractors that abide by project labor agreements. New York’s construction unions have already built workforce development programs that support workers entering into construction jobs. Similarly, IBEW Local 3 has successfully built an education program model that supports both incoming apprentices and journeypersons in the electrical sector. New York City can and should build on these models to ensure all New Yorkers have access to an equitable recovery. If the other renewable energy sectors established their own apprenticeships and job placement programs, it would establish a strong economic engine for the City and offer additional pathways for New Yorkers to attain good-paying, union-track jobs.

Office: Mayor, City Council

Mechanism: Budget, Mayoral and/or Agency Policy, Oversight and/or Auditing

The current waste management system in New York City fails to comply with standards of efficiency championed by climate change experts and advocates. Rather, it simultaneously contributes to emissions of fossil fuels and harms communities of color and low income communities, who are disproportionately located next to undesirable waste management facilities, to a great degree. These issues must be addressed through a comprehensive climate justice lens that eliminates current detrimental waste management strategies, moves to commercial waste zones, expands citywide recycling efforts, and creates equitable and sustainable transfer stations.  

3A. Move away from waste incineration and “Waste to Energy” and towards local processing and recycling

Problem: The prevalent method of waste removal in the City’s programs is incineration and “waste to energy,” where waste is burned. This process works against the goals of moving away from fossil fuels and pollution in the waste management system. According to the Climate Justice Agenda, “Waste to Energy” programs spew toxic particulate matter and harmful chemicals to communities that live near waste management facilities, which disproportionately are poor, working-class communities of color. 

Recommendation: The City must immediately stop all incineration and “Waste to Energy” programs, both inside the city limits and at locations where the city’s waste is taken. As the Climate Justice Agenda advocates, the waste management system should carefully consider the environments wherein waste is chosen to be stored and processed. The City must shift toward local processing of waste and recycling programs so they take responsibility for what the City generates. The City’s Department of Sanitation must also end contracts with private companies that dictate a minimum amount of waste that needs to be burned to keep partnerships intact. 

Office: Mayor, City Council

Mechanism: Budget, Mayoral and/or Agency Policy, Oversight and/or Auditing

3B. Implement the Commercial Waste Zones legislation

Problem: The City passed the Commercial Waste Zones Law in 2019 after decades of advocacy by community environmental groups. The law was established to implement the collecting of waste from commercial venues. However, the plan to develop commercial waste zones, which will improve the overall waste collection system, has yet to be implemented on a City level. As the Climate Justice Agenda reports, the City’s goals are set, but the action of setting up the zones and moving away from private companies to collect waste has yet to happen. 

Recommendation: According to the Climate Justice Agenda, the City must ensure the environmental, labor, and logistical tenants of the 2019 law are implemented. The City must oversee and dedicate resources to ensure that inspections and proper enforcement take place for Commercial Waste Zones. Since this is a new program, the implementation will be crucial if the City wants to improve the way commercial waste is handled, and secure a more sustainable future for all its residents. 

Office: Mayor, City Council

Mechanism: Budget, Mayoral and/or Agency Policy, Oversight and/or Auditing

3C. Expand the City’s organics recycling program

Problem: According to Waste Today Magazine, food waste contributes to up to 35 percent of  waste amongst New York City residents, and a majority of that waste still ends up in the landfill. Even though New York City runs the US’s largest organics recycling program, otherwise known as composting, the City still has a lot of work to do to reduce and eliminate food waste. Since the beginning of the pandemic in 2019, the City has halted curbside pickup for organic waste, essentially cutting off the program for a majority of New York residents.   

Recommendation:The City must increase funding so that all residents have access to organic recycling programs. The Climate Justice Agenda advocates for partnering with organic waste collectors that use both zero- and low-emissions vehicles for collection. Standard garbage trucks contribute to a considerable amount of pollution, traffic, and noise. The City can also create green jobs with stable incomes by hiring organizers and collectors. In addition, the City must devote more resources to the careful separation of recyclables at the collection sites. 

Office: Mayor, City Council

Mechanism: Budget, Mayoral and/or Agency Policy, Oversight and/or Auditing

3D. Ensure that waste transfer stations adhere to public health and safety standards

Problem: Waste transfer stations act as intermediary locations where waste goes before it is shipped out of New YorkCity, most often via trucks, rail or barge. According to the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance, these stations are clustered around a few low-income communities, as well as communities of color, and have been dependent on heavy-duty truck use for decades, which negatively affects the quality of life for these residents. Neighborhoods such as the South Bronx receive over 75 percent of the city’s commercial waste at these poorly regulated sites, thus disproportionately affecting the health of the low income communities of color.

Recommendation: The City must ensure that waste transfer stations adhere to public health and safety standards. According to the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance, the Department of Sanitation must assess work done at transfer stations to ensure high performance standards are met, as required by City zoning code for industrial use near residences. This includes regulations such as ensuring odors do not leave the property, and proper dust control. The City should not allow carting companies to contract with private transfer stations that do not adhere to these public health guidelines, thus discouraging transfer stations from harming nearby residents.

Office: Mayor, City Council

Mechanism: Mayoral and/or Agency Policy, Oversight and/or Auditing

4) Invest in and enforce green buildings infrastructure and retrofits

An important measure in the fight against climate change is striving to ensure that our buildings are not only carbon neutral, but actually tangibly help in the fight. While fighting against climate change can seem like an abstraction, the City can improve our infrastructure to collect solar energy, reduce carbon emissions, and overall reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. The Climate Mobilization Act of 2019 was a landmark victory for our climate, but we must enforce it and continue to build upon it. 

4A. Retrofit and install solar on the City’s affordable and public buildings

Problem: According to SI Live, over 70 percent of greenhouse gas emissions come from buildings. While Next City reports that affordable housing received some exemptions to limit its carbon emissions in the Climate Mobilization Act, New York City government states that NYCHA aims to produce 25 megawatts of solar energy by 2025. Additionally, in 2018, NYCHA announced plans for designing community solar gardens. NYC Climate Justice Agenda 2020 states that, on average, census tracts that are majority Black or Latinx have drastically fewer rooftop solar installations; as a result, it is critical that the City work to make available more clean energy sources in public housing buildings.

Recommendation:  In order to expand our clean energy sources, New York City must lead in the fight against climate change and make retrofitting public buildings with solar panels, including affordable and social housing, a top priority.  The City should also ensure that working-class communities of color aren’t left behind, potentially providing resources to organizations like WE ACT, creators of Solar Uptown Now. Next City reports that the 13 buildings which are a part of Solar Uptown Now, a program for affordable housing co-ops, could save almost $2 million in energy costs over the course of the 25-year life of the solar panels. 

Office: Mayor, City Council

Mechanism: Budget, Mayoral and/or Agency Policy, Oversight and/or Auditing

4B. Enforce compliance around climate mobilization mandates laid out in local law 97

Problem: Local Law 97, one of ten bills in the Climate Mobilization Act, necessitates New York City’s 50,000 largest buildings to decrease their carbon emissions by forty percent by 2030 and 80 percent by 2050. If building owners are noncompliant, they are susceptible to facing multimillion-dollar fines annually beginning in 2024. Local Law 97 also requests the City to study emissions trading, a previously successful tool in reducing the emissions of those in the industrial sector. However, the City has failed to create and actualize legislation that successfully “translate the lessons learned from industrial trading programs to buildings,” according to NYU Law Review. The lack of guidelines makes it easier for bad actors who pollute to buy their way out of reducing emissions. 

Recommendation: To actively and successfully enforce Local Law 97, the City must set strict legislative guidelines for carbon emissions market design. Flexibility mechanisms such as offsets and banking should be reduced to ensure covered entities are actively reducing their carbon emissions. The City should utilize Tokyo’s emissions trading system for buildings in the vein of issuing credits to buildings who only successfully reduce their emissions by more than is required on a consistent basis. In similarity to Tokyo, the City of New York should ensure that a completely open market for trading does not exist. Each building must earn their credits, in order to successfully reduce emissions and earn compliance with Local Law 97, according to NYU Law Review

Office: Mayor, City Council

Mechanism: Mayoral and/or Agency Policy, Oversight and/or Auditing

4C. Create “Green Healthy Schools” and good green jobs by installing solar and ventilation systems in public schools

Problem: According to a report by the Climate Works for All coalition, New York City has one of the largest school districts in the country with over 1,800 school buildings. K-12 public schools account for one-quarter of all city-owned buildings, and they are also among the biggest climate polluters, a large portion of the City’s highest carbon emitters in its public buildings portfolio. According to a September 2020 report by The Solar Foundation, only 2.4 percent of New York City schools have installed solar. This is a huge missed opportunity, as many of those buildings are large with expansive rooftops that are suitable for solar energy, and can provide 23.2 megawatts of solar energy to the City, according to the Climate Works for All .

Recommendation: According to the Climate Works for All coalition, the installation of solar energy and air control systems can enhance equity and safety in K-12 public schools. It can also create good-paying jobs that help the city achieve its climate goals. On solar, the City has already worked with unions to successfully build Green, Healthy Schools such as PS 62 in Staten Island. PS 62 is the first net-zero school in New York City, and harvests as much renewable energy as it uses annually. Evidence strongly suggests that the installation of HVAC systems with reliable indoor air quality monitoring can reduce the airborne spread of COVID-19. The City should include project labor agreements, community hiring practices, and other contractual mechanisms that raise labor standards in clean energy infrastructure projects, to offer well-paying career pathways to both entry level workers and workers transitioning to the climate industry.

Office: Mayor, City Council

Mechanism: Budget, Mayoral and/or Agency Policy, Oversight and/or Auditing

5) Utilize land use and industrial zones to promote climate health

For decades, industrial zones have been neglected and pushed to the side by the City. Numerous rezonings have made the already scarce number of industrial zones across the City even scarcer. City neglect threatens industrial zones, but also threatens the working-class and people of color that live and work within them. Industrial zones are sources of good, union jobs, and could potentially be vital in the fight against climate change by being a source of thousands of green jobs. Protecting industrial zones, and ensuring that all these zones and all public land are assets in the fight against climate change is essential. 

5A. Maximize usage of our city’s industrial zones and waterfronts by electrifying ports

Problem: According to the New York Times, about 60 percent of the state’s electricity is consumed New York City area, where only 40 percent of it is made. Due to  our outdated and energy-inefficient power grid, less than a quarter of energy produced in New York comes from renewable sources. As a result, Climate Works for All reports the City’s industrial waterfront communities are vulnerable to flooding, rising sea levels, and extreme heat brought on by climate change. Furthermore, our City’s industrial zones are at risk of being taken over by speculative developers–between 2003 and 2015, 16 percent of the industrial land in Sunset Park, Brooklyn was lost to real estate developers. 

Recommendation: As recommended by Climate Works for All, the City should maximize usage of industrial zones by shifting its focus from onshore to offshore energy production and investing in upgraded industrial infrastructure and port electrification. In order to advance the City’s clean energy agenda and minimize land displacement, the City should work with the Department of City Planning to implement clean transportation, renewable energy and green industrial innovation in the City’s industrial zones as a part of DCP’s Waterfront Revitalization Project.

Office: Mayor, City Council

Mechanism: Budget, Mayoral and/or Agency Policy, Oversight and/or Auditing

5B. Retain the industrial character of our waterfronts

Problem: According to the NYC Environmental Justice Alliance, six out of seven of the City’s Significant Maritime and Industrial Areas (SMIAs) cover 4,000 acres of land which are subject to a lower review standard, and are thus often sites of hazardous, pollutionary infrastructure, making them vulnerable to storm surges. These sites are located primarily in communities made up of Black, Latinx, and other people of color. Further, plans by private developers to rezone industrial waterfronts for luxury commercial, residential, and retail space can lead to gentrification and displacement of local residents. 

Recommendation: The City should work with the Department of City Planning to implement clean transportation, renewable energy, and energy storage in the City’s industrial zones as a part of DCP’s Waterfront Revitalization Project in order to transition away from reliance on fossil fuels. Community-based projects like the Green Resilient Industrial District in Sunset Park, Brooklyn should be studied and considered for implementation in industrial waterfronts across the City, which would advance climate resiliency, create job opportunities, and protect local residents from displacement. 

Office: Mayor, City Council

Mechanism: Budget, Mayoral and/or Agency Policy, Oversight and/or Auditing

5C. Utilize public land and public resources for renewable energy purposes

Problem: According to Climate Works for All, when addressing climate resilience through public land developments, we must not only consider the hazards of heat and coastal flooding, but also take energy into account. The city must implement measures that will guarantee equitable access to reliable, affordable, clean energy throughout the neighborhoods most vulnerable to the threats of climate change while working to ease the burdens that many of these environmental justice communities have historically borne. We need to ensure that climate developments on public lands are as multi-beneficial as possible.

Recommendation: The Renewable Rikers project offers one vision of what a more robust plan for climate resilience and implementation of renewable infrastructure may look like on city owned land. The proposal is a public land adaptation project that could reclaim space used to oppress New York’s BIPOC communities for climate adaptation and mitigation infrastructure. In one envisioning of what the land could be used for, the island could be converted to a multi-use renewables space, hosting water treatment and composting facilities, energy from waste facilities, a solar field, power storage, urban agriculture, an academic research center, a public greenway, and a memorial to the island’s history. Such a project should proceed with the engagement of and with clear community benefits to formerly incarcerated New Yorkers. Other city public land should also be considered for renewable energy purposes.

Office: Mayor, City Council

Mechanism: Mayoral and/or Agency Policy, Land Use Action

6) Improve the city’s resilience against climate disasters

Climate disasters that threaten the city’s people and infrastructure are inevitable. After Hurricane Ida hit New York City in September 2021, causing millions in damages and taking the lives of 18 New Yorkers, climate scientists once again warned that New York City was not ready for future climate disasters, according to ABC 7 NY. Delaying resiliency preparation risks critically damaging our already damaged public transit system and putting New Yorkers, including a disproportionate amount of New Yorkers of color, at risk of displacement or death. The City must act and properly prepare our city for climate disasters.

6A. Implement a five borough resiliency bill focused on community input and nature-based resiliency

Problem: In 2012, Hurricane Sandy made it clear that New York City’s infrastructure was not ready to meet the urgent threat of climate change-related disasters. Coastal communities were ravaged, and in response, both the Bloomberg and de Blasio administrations made efforts to make a more resilient city. However, investments in resiliency and coastal protections are not meeting the necessary pace of urgent climate risks. According to a report by the Comptroller’s Office, as of March 31, 2019, the City had only spent 54 percent of the $14.7 billion in federal grants allocated for Sandy recovery and resiliency improvements. This paltry spending is in the face of potential climate disasters and monthly coastal flooding in Queens, Brooklyn, and the Bronx as soon as 2050. 

Recommendation: In order to meet the urgent threat of disasters, rising sea levels, and coastal erosion caused by climate change, the City must prioritize and invest in making New York City resilient with nature-based solutions. In 2021, a bill requiring the City to create a five borough resiliency plan, Int 1620-2019, was passed by the City Council. This local law should be implemented with an included focus on community input and nature-based resilience, so the City can get to work protecting our coastal communities and city at large.

Office: Mayor, City Council

Mechanism: Mayoral and/or Agency Policy, Oversight and/or Auditing

6B. Incorporate nature-based infrastructure into the proposed coastal protections project

Problem: Nature-based infrastructure is rarely included in plans to protect our coasts from the looming threat of rising sea levels and coastal erosion. Instead, most plans place a focus on “gray infrastructure”—traditional climate infrastructure like dams, seawalls, or water treatment plants—which typically place a disproportionate burden on communities of color while neglecting to provide critical services to these communities. Funding and creating green infrastructure in New York City is a worthwhile and important part of protecting our coasts that is being neglected by the present power structures.

Recommendation: Instead of remaining hyper-focused on building out only gray climate infrastructure, the City should incorporate nature-based and green infrastructure into coastal protection plans. There are a variety of ways that nature-based infrastructure can be implemented, including protecting or restoring wetlands and floodplains, vegetating sand dunes, creating greenways, and creating stormwater parks like Hunter’s Point South Park. Community gardens are another creative way to protect against potential flooding by increasing the amount of permeable soils while providing a sense of community and a source of fresh fruits and vegetables in communities that would otherwise be food deserts. 

Office: Mayor, City Council

Mechanism: Budget, Mayoral and/or Agency Policy, Oversight and/or Auditing

6C. Expand the “Cool Neighborhood” street tree initiative and renew Million Trees NYC program

Problem: One immediate threat posed by climate change is an increase in extreme heat deaths. The urban heat island effect exacerbates this risk for urban areas. And because neighborhoods vary by vegetation, building materials, and density, no two communities face the same heat wave. Disparities occur along racial and socioeconomic lines. New York City has an estimated 5.2 million trees, including 600 thousand on streets. The City’s street trees absorb hundreds of millions of gallons of stormwater, and thousands of tons of carbon dioxide and airborne pollutants each year; they provide shade, block wind, and lower temperatures. Trees reduce energy costs, and boost health outcomes for local residents.

Recommendation: The Parks Department launched MillionTreesNYC in 2007, successfully planting one million new trees throughout the urban landscape in 2015, spending $360 million. The City invested $106 million to fund Cool Neighborhoods NYC from 2017 to 2021, to begin combating extreme heat with new trees and reflective roofs. The City should continue funding urban tree renewal programs. MillionTreesNYC should be restored as a regular tree-planting program, setting periodic targets in accordance with City climate goals. Cool Neighborhoods should expand, investing in new heat protection strategies as community needs shift. Community input and racial equity must be paramount.

Office: Mayor, City Council

Mechanism: Budget, Mayoral and/or Agency Policy

6D. Improve stormwater systems and green infrastructure to guard against flash flooding

Problem: Flash flooding poses a serious threat to our streets, subway systems, and city infrastructure at large. While the City has made improvements to our stormwater systems to meet this threat, it needs to do more. Communities of color and low-income communities have been left behind in the city’s current approach to improve stormwater system infrastructure, and the urgent threat of climate change induced weather events signal the need to protect our city effectively and equally.

Recommendation: In order to ensure that our communities and city infrastructure are prepared for potential flash flooding, the City must take an integrated approach to improving our stormwater systems. While it is important to maintain, improve, and expand upon the traditional stormwater management systems like storm drains, we must also build out the City’s green infrastructure. By introducing infrastructure that has more permeable surfaces—like absorbent parks and gardens, vegetated or green roofs, and roadside plantings. In building out this infrastructure, it is important to make sure that communities of color that have historically been left out of these infrastructure improvement projects aren’t excluded.

Office: Mayor, City Council

Mechanism: Budget, Mayoral and/or Agency Policy, Oversight and/or Auditing