New York City unveils ambitious plan for local steps to tackle climate change

New York City has approved an ambitious plan to combat climate change by forcing thousands of large buildings to slash their greenhouse gas emissions.

The legislation passed on Thursday by the city council puts caps on carbon emissions for buildings over 25,000 sq ft – requiring a 40% overall cut in their emissions by 2030.

The mandates, touted as a local version of the Green New Deal embraced by many progressive Democrats, will apply to 50,000 buildings – from buildings with a few dozen apartments to Trump Tower, the president’s Fifth Avenue skyscraper which advocates have targeted as a major polluter.

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“It will be the largest emissions reduction policy ever, in any city,” said the city councilman Costa Constantinides, who spearheaded the bills.

The law puts caps on how many tons of carbon a building may produce per square foot, with different limits for residential, commercial and industrial buildings.

To reach them, many buildings will have to replace heating or air conditioning systems with more efficient models or put in better insulation and windows. Or, they can use electricity from clean sources like solar and hydropower, which will not produce emissions.

It is an attempt to tackle the biggest source of greenhouse gas in New York, where buildings account for about 67% of emissions.

Real estate owners have opposed the plan, calling it too costly and too riddled with exceptions to be effective.

“The approach taken today will have a negative impact on our ability to attract and retain a broad range of industries, including technology, media, finance and life sciences, that provide opportunity and continued economic growth that is so important for our city,” said John Banks, the president of the Real Estate Board of New York.

Rent-stabilized apartments will be exempt from the caps, though they will be required to do some upgrades to improve energy efficiency. Churches, synagogues and mosques are also exempt, as is the city’s public housing system.

Banks wrote that the exceptions unfairly leave “mostly market-rate housing and commercial buildings to shoulder the entire burden of what is undeniably a shared societal problem”.

Buildings that violate the caps will face fines of $268 a year for every excess ton of carbon they put out – which could add up to millions of dollars for the worst offenders.

The city is also aiming to set up a carbon trading program, though details have not been determined. By 2050, the aim is to cut the buildings’ emissions by 80%.

The package, called the Climate Mobilization Act, also requires new buildings to put in green roofs or rooftop solar panels.

A New York panel has predicted sea level rises of up to 6ft if climate change goes unchecked, leaving wide swaths of the city in the path of floods. Mayor Bill de Blasio last month proposed building a new chunk of Manhattan to protect the existing island from rising seas.

New York is one of a host of US cities and states that have vowed to drive down their carbon emissions despite a retreat at the federal level under Donald Trump, who withdrew from the landmark Paris climate change agreement.

De Blasio plans to sign the legislation.

“It’s going to revolutionize our ability to reduce emissions through our buildings, which are really our number one problem here in New York City,” he said this week. “We were going to need to do something very aggressive, particularly because the federal government is not doing their role.”


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