Policies are part of his State of the City address and seek to create a greener, more sustainable and resilient New York City
New York, NY – New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson on Thursday unveiled his Securing Our Future: Strategies for New York City in the Fight Against Climate Change report, which was part of his planned State of the City speech. The speech was scheduled for today but postponed due to the coronavirus. In this comprehensive sustainability report, Speaker Johnson lays out a blueprint to help our city fight the climate crisis.
Although New York City has taken bold action over the years to address this crisis – including the Climate Mobilization Act the Council passed last year – more must be done to address this crisis. We need to build a more resilient city to withstand the rising sea levels and extreme weather that is coming; transition from fossil fuels to clean, renewable energy; and increase recycling to reduce the amount of waste we send to landfill and achieve a circular economy.
“We must take aggressive measures to adapt to and mitigate climate change. The science is indisputable – if we don’t make changes now to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and halt global warming, our planet and our city will suffer long-standing and irreversible effects. These strategies outline a path forward for New York City to continue to aggressively fight against climate change. The actions we take will inspire communities across the world and help us usher in a greener, healthier and more equitable future for our City,” said Speaker Corey Johnson.
The Council’s recommendations in the 189-page report are divided into four sections: Resiliency; Energy and Emissions; Sustainable, Circular Economy (which includes recycling); and Green Jobs Pipeline. Highlights from each section are listed below.
Resiliency focuses on planning for climate change and protecting New York City today and in the future. Areas covered include coastal resiliency, adapting to rising temperatures, green infrastructure and sustainable surfaces, and citywide resiliency planning. Proposals include:
- Develop a comprehensive five-borough vision to protect every vulnerable part of our shoreline: New York is an archipelago with 520 miles of coastline – more than Miami, Boston, Los Angeles, and San Francisco combined. And yet almost eight years after Superstorm Sandy, we have no comprehensive city-wide shoreline protection plan. Meanwhile, President Trump is cancelling the US Army Corps of Engineers study on coastal storm risks that was a direct response to the damage we sustained in that 2012 storm. He’s even told us to get our “mops and buckets” ready as protection. This Council will consider legislation to develop a plan to protect every vulnerable part of our shoreline. It will be voted on this year and will be a priority for the Council.
- The plan will include intense community engagement and prioritize physically and socially vulnerable neighborhoods.
- Ensure that climate change is baked into our capital planning: The Council will consider legislation to require that climate change be considered when evaluating all proposed capital project investments in infrastructure or facilities. Both the risks and resiliency of the capital projects themselves, and the impact of those capital projects on their surrounding environments, should be considered and addressed.
- Conduct a full assessment of all critical municipal infrastructure and buildings, informed by future climate projections: Climate risks, including heat waves, flooding from more intense and frequent storms, and increased annual precipitation, could affect the city’s ability to deliver important services. We must ensure that critical infrastructure like our schools, hospitals, fire houses and police precincts are prepared and continue to deliver important services in a climate change future.
- Add green infrastructure: The City should be investing in green infrastructure, like green roofs, rain gardens, and vegetation, in more areas of the City. That includes Southeast Queens, Canarsie, and Jamaica Bay communities. Those areas are prone to both flooding and the urban heat island effect, yet unlike other neighborhoods with those issues, they have not been prioritized for green infrastructure. They need green infrastructure to become more resilient and cooler, and to reduce flooding and prevent pollutants from entering nearby waterways. This expansion of green infrastructure should supplement, not replace, the City’s existing greening plans.
- Fill empty tree pits throughout the city: The City Council will consider legislation requiring the Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) to work to fill empty tree pits in the city. Tree pits could be revitalized with a newly-planted tree or, where not feasible due to underground infrastructure, the City could plant other types of appropriate vegetation such as shrubs, flowers, and grass. The City should also bring trees and greenery to neighborhoods that have historically lacked tree pits.
- Properly track every heat-related death: For years, environmental justice advocates have been warning us that we’re not truly counting how many people are dying in the five boroughs from extreme heat. The City Council will consider legislation requiring the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) to re-evaluate its metrics to ensure that all heat-related deaths are appropriately counted. With accurate numbers, we can better target resources to prevent this senseless loss of life. Our local temperatures in 2080 are projected to be the same as Jonesboro, Arkansas.
- Work to provide air conditioners to the most vulnerable, and help them pay their utility bills: The Centers for Disease Control consider every heat-related death to be preventable, if proper cooling is available. Right now, the government provides heating assistance in the winter but hardly any help with cooling. The city does run cooling centers, but not everyone is able to leave their home when its 100 degrees out. Seniors, people with disabilities, and low-income New Yorkers need relief directly in their homes. Cooling assistance should also be prioritized.
Energy and Emissions
Energy and Emissions focuses on concrete steps the City can take to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and support the transition from fossil fuels to a clean energy economy. In addition to being good for the planet, this is also essential for creating a healthier, more livable city.
These emissions are hurting our quality of life right now, especially in environmental justice communities that disproportionately face the negative effects of climate change, air pollution, and lack of green space. Nearly a quarter of black children in New York City have asthma, and 15 percent of Latinx kids do. Climate justice is social justice. Our proposed policies to help transition to a clean energy economy include:
- Work with the State to transmit more clean energy to our homes and businesses: While the City must work to replace the dirty power plants and expand renewable energy generation, the State needs to significantly increase the amount of renewable energy transmitted to the city so we can fully transition to a clean grid. Further, there is still no plan for where the State goal of 9,000 MW of offshore wind power by 2035 will go. The City Council will advocate for at least half of this wind power to go to New York City. The City Council also calls on the State to ensure that new transmission lines are developed to connect upstate-generated renewable energy to New York City.
- Renewable Rikers: In January 2020, the City Council held a hearing on three pieces of legislation that would advance the City toward transforming Rikers Island into a hub for renewable energy and green jobs. The City Council will work to pass this legislation and ensure the future of Rikers Island advances our transition to renewable energy, decreases citywide emissions and localized air pollution, and creates green jobs for New Yorkers, particularly restorative justice and environmental justice communities. This transformation will help us transition off of fossil fuels to a clean energy economy. It will also benefit many of the same communities of color who have suffered from environmental racism, and who were harmed under the broken criminal justice system that Rikers represents.
- District-scale renewable energy: The City Council will consider legislation requiring a district-scale clean energy project, which will bring together a network of buildings to provide heating, cooling, and hot water needs without fossil fuels. The City could study the potential impact on communities and determine where to best utilize an integrated system of river source, geothermal, solar thermal, and/or building wastewater energy, along with energy storage, to supply heating and cooling for a network of buildings. The focus of the project could include a New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) development, ensuring our public housing residents are not left behind in the transition to clean and renewable energy.
- Require all new construction to be “electrification-ready”: We want to deliver the next generation of buildings. The City Council will consider legislation requiring new construction and buildings undergoing extensive renovations to be fully electrification-ready, so that they do not need to rely on fossil fuels to provide heating and cooling needs. Electrifying systems is critical to reducing emissions as the State advances toward its commitment to a 100% carbon-free electric grid by 2040. We’ve already legislated the largest greenhouse gas emissions reduction bill for buildings in the world with the Climate Mobilization Act. This will further reduce emissions from our building sector.
- A 100% zero emission school bus fleet by 2040: Asthma is the number one cause of absenteeism for New York City public school kids. We cannot continue to allow our kids to breathe in diesel fumes every day. The City Council will consider legislation that will replace diesel school buses with zero-emission school buses by 2040. This transition will be phased in as existing buses meet their age limitation. This timetable will replace more than 9,000 diesel buses with cleaner modes of transportation, reduce emissions, and improve the quality of life for students, especially those in areas with high asthma rates.
- More parking for cyclists: Cycling is one of the most sustainable modes of transportation we have. As biking becomes increasingly popular, and as the Streets Master Plan covers more areas of the city in safe and connected bikeways, there needs to be a commensurate increase in safe and secure bike parking. This is especially true for transit hubs, commercial areas, and dense residential areas where there are a significant number of bikes and limited room in apartments to store them. The City should increase the availability of safe and secure bike parking, including in plazas and along parks, next to subway stations, and on-street, including by utilizing bike corrals.
Reducing Waste and Growing the Circular Economy
Sustainable, Circular Economy focuses on developing a system that reduces waste and pollution through innovative design, increased access to recycling, and support for groundbreaking, sustainability-focused work. New York City is part of a growing movement with the goal of sending zero waste to landfill. But our city produces about 3.1 million tons of residential waste every year – and we only recycle less than 20 percent of that.
- Bring curbside organics pickup to every New Yorker: New York City currently has a program that accepts organics – food scraps and yard waste – to be recycled. But curbside organics recycling isn’t available city-wide. And it’s entirely optional, which has led to low participation rates. Over one-third of what we send to landfill could be beneficially reused, either as fuel or compost. That’s not just wasteful, it’s also destructive. The City Council will consider legislation providing all New York City residents with access to organics recycling. Expanding access to residential organics pick-up would reduce waste sent to landfill, curtail resultant greenhouse gas emissions, and allow for the eventual beneficial reuse of food waste. The City should implement an education campaign that includes a discussion of benefits of source separating organic material, including reduced rodent visibility. The City-provided brown organics bins are much more protective against rodents than traditional garbage bins and bags, and removing food scraps from garbage bags could reduce rat visibility around homes.
- Require the beneficial reuse of construction and demolition material: The City Council will consider legislation requiring certain C&D materials to be recycled for beneficial reuse. Construction materials make up over 60% of our waste stream. New York City could replicate steps other cities have taken to reduce the amount of C&D materials sent to landfill. We should be reclaiming as much of this wood, steel, concrete and carpet as we can. This will cut out waste and reduce consumption and emissions because we won’t have to create new materials in the first place.
- Citywide textile recycling: Nearly all textiles can be recycled, and citywide infrastructure and programs currently exist to reuse and recycle textiles. Yet New Yorkers are not required to recycle their textiles, which means they end up in our landfills. The City Council will consider legislation mandating textile recycling to ensure textiles are not disposed of with household trash. An expansion of collection options should be assessed, such as additional bins in buildings for textile recycling, textile sorting and recycling facilities, and an improved online textile-collection locator. And the Council work with stores to make sure even more of them take back clothes to be recycled or reused.
- Use a Trash Wheel to Clean the City’s Waterways: Trash Wheels are sustainably-powered machines that can be placed in waterways to catch waste as it flows into the machine. Baltimore’s first trash wheel – dubbed “Mr. Trash wheel” – collected more than one million pounds of trash in two and a half years. In five years, several trash wheels in Baltimore have collected approximately 11 million cigarette butts, 850,000 plastic bottles, 627,000 plastic bags, one beer keg, and one guitar. The City should conduct a study in collaboration with experts in the field of marine waste and the city’s waterways and deploy a trash wheel in New York City.
Green Jobs Pipeline
Green Jobs Pipeline focuses on how the City can create good paying, sustainable jobs that employ a diverse workforce, and that will be in high demand as the City achieves resiliency, clean energy, and circularity. The Council will work to ensure environmental justice communities have a seat at the table and are part of the planning in this new green economy.
- The Office of Workforce Development should focus its attention on building a sustainable and green workforce: To help create and diversify green jobs, the Mayor’s Office of Workforce Development (WKDEV) should focus on green job development. Evaluating green job growth and labor demands should be a priority for WKDEV, and it should also work to coordinate training and workforce development programs to ready New Yorkers for a clean energy and circular economy.
- Create additional career and technical education (CTE) programs dedicated to green jobs: Given the important role that CTE education plays in the current schooling system, DOE should create more of these programs to provide pathways to green jobs, and find ways to link these students to potential workplaces.
- Increase green jobs focused internships and work-based learning experiences for high school students: The City should boost internships and other work-based learning experiences that focus on green jobs for New York City high school students. This should include partnering with local business who have an interest in sustainability or want to grow their green workforce in the future in order to meet the demands of a clean energy economy. Opportunities for students should include internships, apprenticeships, afterschool or summer jobs, and service or experiential learning programs.
- Expand Green STEM in all schools and after school programs: DOE should partner with organizations and learning institutions who have developed green STEM curricula in order to expand green STEM programming to all DOE schools and to after school programs
- Ensure that the public school curriculum includes climate change education: Our response to climate change will be felt for generations. As keepers of this future, students should be provided with a complete and accurate picture of how human activity affects the Earth, and how the world can mobilize to address the impacts of climate change. In a landscape where attitudes towards science have become more hostile, with fear and doubt being used to sew confusion, it is vital for students to be provided with evidence-based education on climate change.
Read what advocates, activists and members of the New York City Council are saying:
“The State of the City address was packed with bold climate action and we applaud Speaker Johnson for his leadership in addressing New York City’s most immediate environmental issues, including growing waste in landfills, our reliance on dirty energy and the negative impact of transportation and building pollution on our most vulnerable communities. We are most excited about the inclusion of organics recycling and clean school buses – two of NYLCV’s top priorities. We look forward to working with Speaker Johnson and the rest of City Council to address these pressing issues this year,” said Julie Tighe, President, New York League of Conservation Voters.
“We are pleased to partner with the Speaker and his staff to explore opportunities around sustainable practices across New York City’s dynamic and evolving economy. Our members, who span many industries, offer unique perspectives that will be invaluable in identifying barriers and charting the best path forward for a sustainable 21st century economy that respects our environment, and prioritizes cost savings and the needs of New Yorkers,” said Steven Rubenstein, Chairman, Association for a Better New York.
“Getting resilience and sustainability right requires attention to local detail, like creating bike parking at transit stations. Speaker Johnson’s new climate program is a strong complement to 2019’s Street Master Plan legislation. The Master Plan itself will comprise an important facet of the city’s strategy for climate resilience,” said Jon Orcutt, Advocacy Director, Bike New York.
“It’s great to see a far-reaching plan that would not only boost the number of green jobs in New York but also make the education and workforce development investments needed to ensure that the good jobs created in this sector are inclusive and accessible,” said Jonathan Bowles, Executive Director, Center for an Urban Future.
“Addressing climate change requires transformative action in all parts of our economy, and in New York City this means focusing on our transportation and buildings,” said Elizabeth B. Stein, Senior Manager and Senior Attorney, Environmental Defense Fund. “The proposals in the New York City Council’s new report, especially adopting a zero-emission school bus fleet and requiring buildings to be electric-ready for heating, will continue to bolster the City’s leadership to lay the groundwork for New Yorkers to move beyond fossil fuels and cut pollution.”
“The Renewable Rikers Plan offers New York City a path to definitively end the era of holding human beings on a toxic penal colony, and simultaneously ensure that same land is used to repair the harm done to communities most impacted by mass criminalization, by environmental racism, and by disinvestment. It is those communities that have led this plan, and that created this opportunity by organizing to close the Rikers Island jails. We thank Speaker Johnson for his support in recognizing that the time to pass these three bills is now. We cannot miss this chance to claim 413 acres for the benefit of our communities and environment,” said Brandon Holmes, NYC Campaign Coordinator, JustLeadershipUSA.
“The impacts of climate change are far-reaching and addressing the crisis requires bold action in every aspect of society,” said Eric A. Goldstein, Senior Attorney and New York City Environment Director at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “So, we welcome Speaker Corey Johnson’s action-oriented report, which outlines sensible, exciting strategies that can make New York a more climate resilient city and one that prioritizes justice for all residents, especially communities on the frontlines. We look forward to working with the New York City Council as it moves forward with plan implementation — to the long-term benefit of New Yorkers in all five boroughs.”
“It is clear Speaker Johnson understands the urgency of the climate crisis. His commitment to an electric school bus fleet by 2040, expanding mandatory curbside organics collection citywide and diverting other recyclable materials from landfill, and to creating a renewable energy and sustainability hub on Rikers Island by supporting all three bills in the Renewable Rikers Act will significantly reduce New York City’s greenhouse gas emissions. Most importantly, if done right these measures will also reduce air pollution and other harmful impacts in communities of color. We look forward to working with the Speaker and the City Council to pass these measures to help build an equitable and sustainable climate future,” said Rachel Spector, Environmental Justice Program Director, New York Lawyers for the Public Interest.
“The NYC Environmental Justice Alliance applauds Council Speaker Corey Johnson and his comprehensive climate report. The ongoing corruption, incompetence and climate denialism emanating from the White House compels state and local governments to fill the void – and Speaker Johnson knows that climate justice action from NYC can both model innovative behavior for other cities while putting New Yorkers to work protecting our great city. From embracing today’s obvious need for a Five Borough Resiliency Plan to tomorrow’s growing threat of heat mortality, Speaker Johnson and his Council colleagues understand that true leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality. We look forward to working with the Council to realize this Just Transition vision of NYC into reality,” said Eddie Bautista, Executive Director, NYC Environmental Justice Alliance.
“The inclusion of green infrastructure as part of the Speaker’s climate resiliency initiatives is welcome and necessary. Green infrastructure, when implemented with an eye toward social justice, will create a city that is not only climate resilient but is also vibrant with green jobs, clean air, and clean water. New York City Soil & Water Conservation District looks forward to working with the Council to build on the Speaker’s platform to create a truly sustainable New York City,” said Shino Tanikawa, Executive Director, NYC Soil & Water Conservation District.
“Speaker Johnson’s clear-eyed approach to tackling the climate crisis through ambitious, yet achievable actions builds on the City’s bold track record, while taking steps in new and important directions,” said Rob Freudenberg, Vice President, Energy & Environment at Regional Plan Association. “Whether it’s future-proofing the city’s newest buildings for a time with higher sea levels and new energy sources or envisioning regional climate adaptation governance, the Speaker’s vision for the future is in line with the challenges we face.”
“The Speaker’s climate resiliency vision includes important green infrastructure measures that will protect public health and the environment with particular attention to physically and socially vulnerable communities. These nature-based strategies will soak up rainfall to reduce flooding in our neighborhoods and sewage pollution in our waters, help protect our coastlines against storm surges, improve air quality, and reduce local heat impacts. Stormwater Infrastructure Matters (SWIM) Coalition strongly supports these proposals and looks forward to working with the Council to further develop and implement them,” said Julie Welch, Program Manager, Stormwater Infrastructure Matters (SWIM) Coalition.
“What Council Speaker Johnson is calling for has the potential to make New York City streets safer, greener, and more equitable for all residents,” said Transportation Alternatives Executive Director Danny Harris. “In particular, reviewing parking maximums, extending the city’s protected bike lane network, expanding the footprint of the bike share system in under-served areas, and installing more bike parking are some of the best ways to connect New Yorkers to opportunity and make our streets function better for everyone. We commend Speaker Johnson for laying out these plans and stand ready to support their implementation.”
“Energy efficiency and building electrification are essential to meeting NYC’s ambitious carbon reduction targets. But to get there, we need a workforce with new skills. Urban Green applauds Speaker Corey Johnson for putting green jobs front and center, with a suite of policy proposals to build a green economy that works for all New Yorkers,” said John Mandyck, CEO of Urban Green Council.
“By the end of this century, climate change is projected to cost New York billions in flood damage and cause disruptions to ways of life. Much of our infrastructure is under stress and underfunded. We applaud the Speaker for introducing robust and comprehensive resilience strategies that prioritize equity, need, and existing risk. A comprehensive lens has never been more important. As we work to reduce greenhouse gases and mitigate climate change, we must ensure that our vulnerable coastal communities are wisely and resolutely prepared for the reality of sea level rise and the next big storm. Ultimately, adaptation investments that address these needs will save taxpayer dollars on a return of 6:1 over time and avoid critical risks to our most vulnerable communities,” said Roland Lewis, President and CEO, Waterfront Alliance.
“WE ACT is proud to support the New York City Council’s plan to power affordable housing with renewable energy, develop good jobs in the green economy for communities that suffer the highest unemployment, and reduce heat-related illnesses and deaths by improving its cooling center program and utilization of the funds from the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. And we thank Speaker Corey Johnson for his leadership on these issues,” said Cecil Corbin-Mark, Deputy Director and Director of Policy Initiatives at WE ACT for Environmental Justice. “We are committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions in a just and equitable way, including developing green-collar jobs for those impacted the most by the climate crisis. And with our Solar Uptown Now program, which has installed 415 kW-DC of rooftop solar capacity on 13 affordable housing buildings in Northern Manhattan and trained local workers to do those installations, we have already demonstrated the effectiveness of this concept – creating a Green New Deal for West, Central, and East Harlem and Washington Heights. We are also committed to achieving health equity, and we have been actively working to identify areas of improvement for the City’s Cooling Center program, including conducting a thorough audit of all of the center’s in Northern Manhattan, as well as developing recommendations on how to better use LIHEAP funds to address the heat inequities our communities face.”
“I thank City Council Speaker Corey Johnson for treating climate change like the crisis that it is” said Council Member Antonio Reynoso. Speaker Johnson’s Sustainability Report will steer the Council towards an agenda that prioritizes sustainability, placing New York City in a leadership position to combat climate change. As Chair of the Council’s Sanitation and Solid Waste Management Committee, I look forward to working with the Speaker and my council colleagues on legislation to create a citywide, mandatory organics program, the expansion of our recycling programs, and developing pathways to reduce our overall waste stream and reusing items that can still be put to good use,” said Council Member Antonio Reynoso, Chair of the Committee on Sanitation and Solid Waste Management.
“Since the federal government has abandoned the safety of its own people, New York City must chart its own future. Speaker Corey Johnson’s dedication to a five-borough resiliency plan, a Renewable Rikers Island, and a host of environmental reforms prove the New York City Council is ready to lead. I was thrilled to work on several of these initiatives with him, because we all deserve a brighter, greener, safer future,” said Council Member Costa Constantinides, Chair of the Committee on Environmental Protection.
“I thank Speaker Johnson for his commitment to making all of New York City a more resilient city. For far too long, the emphasis has been on Lower Manhattan, while neighborhoods on the edges of Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Staten Island, primarily low-income communities of color, have been completely left out of the conversation. Hurricane Sandy rocked the entire shoreline of New York City and exposed just how unprepared we were for a climate disaster. Speaker Johnson understands that and as Chair of the Committee on Resiliency and Waterfronts, I look forward to continuing our work together towards making our city more resilient for all New Yorkers,” said Council Member Justin Brannan.
“The New York City Council is under no illusion that global climate change is the most dangerous and pressing long-term threat to the health and wellbeing of New York City and the country,” said City Council Health Committee Chair Mark Levine. “That is why, under the leadership of Speaker Johnson, we have made combating global climate change a core priority of the City Council over the past few years. But we cannot ease up because of past successes; as a city we need to continue to push forward with new solutions and ideas to combat this crisis. This new report presents a blueprint for the next steps we can take to ensure we build a more resilient city and keep focused on the extremely important issue of global climate change as the City faces other crises.”
“The globe is experiencing some of the most devastating natural disasters ever recorded in history due to the changing climate. Close to one fourth of all Black children and 15% of all Latinx children currently suffer from asthma in New York City. Speaker Corey Johnson’s sustainability initiatives will ensure we address and reduce greenhouse emissions predominantly impacting underserved communities. I have been working closely with advocates and City agencies to ensure we substantially reduce greenhouse emissions by encouraging New Yorkers to embrace alternative modes of Transportation. I will continue working alongside Speaker Corey Johnson, my colleagues and advocates to ensure we leave a long-lasting green impact on our planet,” said Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, Chair of the Committee on Transportation.