Dealing with Climate Change
With a Gross Metropolitan Product well over $1 trillion, New York City rivals the 12th largest national economy in the world. From an operational standpoint, the city has an over-$82 billion dollar annual budget, operates using over 70 city agencies and mayoral units, and is expected to serve 9 million residents by 2040. The dense fabric composed of constant human activity and high volume of buildings have contributed to New York having a high carbon footprint – a phenomenon known as the “urban heat island effect.” The City’s sheer volume made it responsible for the emission of 58.3 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2007 – “equal to that produced by Ireland or Switzerland.” Rising sea levels coupled with increased average temperatures (4.1° to 5.7°F) bode operational and budget concerns for the largest municipality in the U.S.
NYC’s Response to Global Warming
New York began directly addressing these challenges head-on in 2007 with the release of a landmark plan for growth and sustainability called PlaNYC by the administration of Mayor Michael Bloomberg (HBS MBA 1966). The plan presented over 100 goals and initiatives, such as investing tens of millions of dollars in green infrastructure along New York City streets.
The impact of Hurricane Sandy in October 2012 illuminated the need for current efforts to protect the coastline as well. Claiming 44 lives and $19 billion in damages and lost economic activity, the major storm stood as a testament to climate change’s increase of extreme weather events. Thus, the City released PlaNYC: A Stronger, More Resilient New York in 2013 to account for the lessons learned from Sandy and document the City’s $20 billion plan to rebuild the affected waterfront communities and adapt them for rising sea levels.
Under succeeding mayor Bill de Blasio, the City would continue the progress made under PlaNYC and add new dimensions while deepening commitments to sustainability such as the new 80×50 goal. With the revised title of OneNYC to reflect these enhanced goals, the operational challenges to scale the city for ambitious, sustainable practices came with new challenges and threats. The most notable goal was the city’s commitment to reduce GHGs by 80 percent compared to 2005 levels. While the City could work arduously on leading by example by retrofitting its own building stock, it is unclear how it would get private owners to comply with such urgency.
A City Council hearing in December 2015 illuminated the disbelief that the City was on a feasible track to reach its goals without legal enforcement. Citing the example of a March 2015 law requiring all new buildings in commercial areas in France to have partial covering by solar panels or a green roof, one council member believed that New York should take more aggressive measures to ensure meeting its goals.
New York City must issue more drastic measures to enforce rather than merely incentivize building owner cooperation in order to make 80×50 a reality. Achieving citywide sustainability goals will require cooperation with the private, nonprofit and residential sectors. The City could enact regulations akin to Local Law 31 of 2016 on a citywide level, which mandates for new City construction to meet one of three standards that are similar or better than being “50 percent below the median energy intensity of similar buildings.”
Incentives and educational resources must work in conjunction with legal regulations to move the city as a whole to the required pace of action. New York City’s Roadmap to 80 x 50 suggests similar strategies, but I argue that they are imperatives.
The City will undoubtedly need to work with its Legal Department and Corporation Counsel to ensure the legality of such measures within these sectors. It will also have to use its legislative affairs offices to target the state and federal governments to secure the legal power and additional funding for this multi-decade, multi-billion-dollar effort. But there simply is no easier way for New York to solidify its health and sustainability for generations to come. As the city prepares its infrastructure and economic conditions to meet the demand of a projected 9 million people by 2040, truly sustainable growth is the only way to proceed.
 OneNYC 2016: Progress Report (p. 17, Rep.). (n.d.). The City of New York.
 Office of Management of Budget. (2016, April 26). The City of New York Executive Budget Fiscal Year 2017. Retrieved November 2, 2016, from http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/omb/downloads/pdf/sum4-16.pdf
 One New York: The Plan for a Strong and Just City (p. 24, Rep.). (2015). The City of New York.
 References to “City” with a capital “C” refer to the municipal governing body of New York City, including city agencies and Mayoral offices.
 PlaNYC, 10.
 PlaNYC: A Greener, Greater New York. (2007, April 22). Retrieved November 2, 2016, from http://www.nyc.gov/html/planyc/downloads/pdf/publications/full_report_2007.pdf
 OneNYC: The Plan for a Strong and Just City. (2015, April 22). Retrieved November 1, 2016, from http://www.nyc.gov/html/onenyc/downloads/pdf/publications/OneNYC.pdf
 One New York: The Plan for a Strong and Just City. (2015). New York, NY: The City of New York.
 The New York City Council, Meeting Minutes: Monday, December 14, 2015. (2016, January 6). Retrieved November 1, 2016, from file:///Users/michaelalan/Downloads/Minutes (1).pdf
 Agence France-Presse. (2015, March 20). New French Law Calls for Green Roofs, Solar Panels. Retrieved November 01, 2016, from http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2015/3/20/new-french-law-calls-for-green-roofs-solar-panels.html
 OneNYC 2016: Progress Report (p. 114, Rep.). (2016). New York, NY: The City of New York.