United States: New York Taking On Climate Change

Last Updated: May 6 2019
Article by Paula Lombardi

On April 18, 2019 New York City Council approved a plan, the local version of the Green New Deal, that requires thousands of buildings to take steps to reduce their greenhouse gas ("GHG") emissions. The plan implements a cap on carbon emissions for buildings over 25,000 sq. ft. in area and requires a 40% overall reduction in GHG emissions by 2030. The required reduction will apply to approximately 50,000 buildings located in New York City.

This represents the largest emissions reduction policy implemented by a city government to date. The new plan places a cap how many tons of carbon a building may produce per square ft with different standards for residential, commercial and industrial buildings.

To achieve the reduction in GHGs buildings may be required to replace HVAC systems with higher efficiency models, install better insulation and/or new windows, or utilize renewable electricity rather than continuing to rely on fossil fuels.

The reduction in building emissions is a key component of the Mayor of New York's commitment to reduce GHGs by 80% by 2050 (know as 80 x 50) and the City's commitment to uphold the Paris Climate Agreement.

The opposition to this plan is due to the implementation costs to the owners of the buildings. Concern has also been expressed about the possible deterrence on new development initiatives due to the costs associated with compliance.

Buildings that do not meet the GHGs emissions caps implemented can be fined up to $268 annually for every excess ton of carbon emitted above the permitted limit that could translate to millions of dollars in fines for some buildings.

Municipal governments around the world are tasked with and committed to the reduction of GHGs through the effective management of risks, protection of community safety and promoting economic sustainability. Municipalities have the ability to utilize its regulatory powers through land use planning, community energy planning, zoning by-laws or regulatory permits to effectively deal with the effects of climate change.

In Canada approximately 300 cities are members of the Partners for Climate Protection program. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities estimates that city governments directly or indirectly control more than 44 percent of our GHG emissions. The three sectors that contribute to the majority of urban GHG emissions include: energy use in buildings, transportation, and waste management.

Several municipalities are adapting to climate change through the implementation of plans to reduce the impacts of changing weather patterns, the City of Thunder Bay is developing a Climate Adaption Strategy. The City of Peterborough is developing a Climate Change Action Plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, reduce the use of fossil fuels, and lower energy consumption to help the Greater Peterborough Area adapt to climate change.

An increasing number of Canadian municipalities are investing in renewable energy projects such as solar panels and streetlight replacement programs where inefficient streetlights are being replaced with high-efficiency LEDs to reduce energy consumption and in some instances raise revenue. In 2013 the City of Brockville installed solar panels on its arena along with a number of energy efficient retrofits to reduce operating costs and the City's carbon footprint. Built around 1,066 rooftop solar panels, this represents one of Canada’s largest municipal solar energy projects. Sudbury's Housing Corporation in 2008 installed a custom designed SolarWall® system. The system draws heated air off the top of the SolarWall® panels that is used in the building's ventilation system. The SolarWall® also displaces approximately 2,162 Gigajoules (GJ) of energy and reduces carbon dioxide emissions by 186 tonnes annually.

The development of efficient municipal buildings can incorporate many environmentally friendly features to increase energy savings. The City of London's Stoney Creek Community Centre is a LEED Gold certified 84,000+ square foot building that includes a community centre, YMCA and library. The Stoney Creek Community Centre implemented: high-efficiency HVAC and lighting systems in addition to optimized building and service designs, resulting in 440 tonnes less GHG emissions annually; green roof, rainwater capture and storage, and low-flow fixtures resulting in 40% less water consumption; utilizing 20 per cent local materials; and, generating 75 per cent less construction waste that was sent to a landfill. We previously wrote about the construction of Net Zero Buildings, specifically the fire hall located in Municipality of Middlesex Centre.

In April 2014, the Town of Halton Hills approved a new set of Green Development Standards to encourage more sustainable, high-performance and efficient development to contribute to economic prosperity, a cleaner environment as well as social and cultural wellbeing. The City of Mississauga, City of Toronto and Town of East Gwillimbury have engaged in similar green development standards and strategy initiatives.

The actions taken today by towns and cities to enhance community resilience to climate change will have considerable effects on their ability to meet future sustainability goals. The examples discussed above are merely a few examples of relatively low-cost actions taken by municipalities that are designed to reduce the costs and impacts associated with the effects of climate change.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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