Bloomberg trumpeted the success of the Brooklyn Navy Yard, where he spoke in a greenhouse damaged by Superstorm Sandy. He noted that the Yard now housed 330 businesses, some of them clean energy and sustainability pioneers. He then turned to climate resiliency — how New York was addressing the reality of climate change and preparing for its impacts:
Today, this building that once turned out battleships now helps lead us in another battle – a battle that may well define our future for generations to come: The battle against climate change.
It is a battle that our Administration has been waging as aggressively as any city in the world. In fact, it’s fair to say that PlaNYC is the most ambitious sustainability program any city has ever undertaken. Six years ago, PlaNYC sounded the alarm about the dangers our city faces due to the effects of climate change today, including the worsening impacts of extreme weather.
Bloomberg noted that as it “waited for Washington to lead on climate change,” New York had cut greenhouse gas emissions city-wide by 16 percent. The goal is a 30 percent drop from 2005 emissions by 2030, meaning New York is halfway to its goal. Though dense, walkable cities allow citizens to emit less greenhouse gases than sprawling suburban areas do, they still emit a serious amount of carbon dioxide.
New York City is one of the biggest cities in the world, and this terrific video provides a clear visualization of the level of emissions the city is facing.
As Brad Johnson, campaign manager of Forecast the Facts points out, though, the plan announced on Tuesday does not address New York’s role (and the investment choices of its financial industry) in creating the carbon emissions that are driving climate change. It could invest more broadly in public and low-income housing for those most affected by superstorms like Sandy. In fact, the plan has a chapter devoted to protecting liquid fuels (read: oil, diesel, and gasoline).
New York is mounting some efforts to reduce carbon pollution. In April, Bloomberg announced that he had secured the pledges of 10 large companies (AIG, BlackRock, Bloomberg LP, Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank, Google, Goldman Sachs, JetBlue, JP Morgan Chase, and PVH) to cut their New York office emissions 30 percent by 2030. These companies join 17 universities and 11 hospitals in New York in making Bloomberg’s “Carbon Challenge” pledge, which also came out of a PlaNYC initiative.
While mitigation (reining in the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change) is a critical element of any climate action plan, adaptation (adjusting to climate change, seizing opportunities, and coping with its effects) requires that communities become climate resilient.
Former commander of the Army Corps of Engineers’ New York District John Boulé said last month that: “Climate change is real…. We’ve got to stop ignoring it and start planning and building to reduce the risk to the public.”
CAP’s Andrew Light explained why adaptation is becoming a topic that can’t be ignored: “We’re starting to see very strong evidence of climate-related extreme events happening sooner than we thought with only a 1-degree [Celsius] rise in temperature, and a more refined science saying now that we will more than likely edge up to or cross the 2-degree threshold.”
The $19.5 billion plan (possibly funded through city and federal dollars) Bloomberg announced on Tuesday uses climate modeling to plan investments in storm surge remedies, as nearly a million New Yorkers will be living on a floodplain by 2050. For every $1 invested in resilience measures, $4 are saved in future recovery costs.
Bloomberg used the word “resilient” 15 times in his speech and mentioned “climate” 16 times. He said on Tuesday:
“I strongly believe we have to prepare for what the scientists say is a likely scenario. Whether you believe climate change is real or not is beside the point — we can’t run the risk. And as New Yorkers, we cannot and will not abandon our waterfront. It’s one of our greatest assets. We must protect it, not retreat from it.”
Specifically, the report details 250 recommendations, ranging from investing in flood-proof homes and commercial buildings to encouraging the elevation of boilers and electrical systems up from basements, from a system of dunes along the city’s natural coastline to a strengthened waterfront that includes levees and bulkheads, and from investing in decaying infrastructure to extending flood perimeters using detachable platforms and barriers.
Carol Browner, Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, released the following statement:
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is leading the way in finding creative and sustainable strategies for cities to become more resilient and secure while addressing the impacts of climate change. America’s mayors are on the front lines of combating climate change that is fueled by industrial carbon pollution. Our cities are at risk, and it will take strong leadership to protect ourselves in the future from the public health, security, and financial risks associated with climate change, carbon pollution, and extreme weather.
Every other city and town in America would do well to look at New York’s approach to climate mitigation and adaptation, improve upon it, and implement it.