New York City is a large emitter of greenhouse gases and will be vulnerable to impacts of climate change such as sea level rise, warming temperatures, and storm surge. In 2007, PlaNYC, a comprehensive sustainability plan for New York City, was released and outlined for the development of a greener city over the next 25 years. PlaNYC reviews the potential climate change impacts in New York City, outlines strategies to reduce the city’s greenhouse gas emissions by 30% by 2030 relative to 2005 levels, and concludes with adaptation measures to reduce the city’s vulnerabilities to climate change.
New York City is the largest city in the United States; alone, it emits nearly 0.25% of the world’s total greenhouse gases. Improving sustainability measures and reducing total greenhouse gas emissions within the City will have a tangible impact on both the regional and global scale. PlaNYC, a comprehensive sustainability plan for New York City’s future, was announced on December 12, 2006, and released on Earth Day, April 22, 2007. To complete PlaNYC, city officials met with over 100 advocacy organizations, held 11 neighborhood town hall meetings, gave 50 presentations, and received over 3,000 emails over the course of four months.
PlaNYC outlines a strategy to reduce the City’s greenhouse gas emissions and plans for a sustainable population growth of nearly one million. PlaNYC has 10 broad, overarching goals to achieve in order to improve New York City’s long-term sustainability:
- Create homes for a million more New Yorkers
- Improve transit capacity and reduce travel times
- Ensure that all residents live within a 10-minute walk of a park
- Develop a back-up system for the City’s water system
- Repair and improve the City’s transportation infrastructure
- Provide cleaner, more reliable power sources
- Reduce global warming emissions by more than 30% relative to 2005 levels
- Improve air quality
- Clean up and restore contaminated land in New York City
- Open 90% of the waterways to recreation by reducing water pollution and protecting natural areas
The climate change section of PlaNYC reviews the potential climate change impacts to the City, suggests strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30% relative to 2005, and proposes initiatives to support climate change adaptation.
Climate change impacts: A warming climate is causing the ocean’s sea level to rise due to hydrothermal expansion and melting land-ice. Lower Manhattan was built on hydraulic fill making it vulnerable to flooding. Over the last century, relative sea level in New York City has risen by more than a foot; as a result, hundred-year floods are occurring every 80 years. As sea level continues to rise, hundred-year floods could become two to four times as frequent. Higher sea levels coupled with violent storms could cause further damage due to flooding by storm surge. A category 3 hurricane could create a surge of up to 16 feet at La Guardia Airport, 21 feet at the Lincoln Tunnel entrance, 24 feet at the Battery Tunnel entrance, and 24 feet at the JFK airport.
Models project that average, daily temperatures will increase within New York City due to climate change. New York could experience days hotter than 90 degrees between 11-24% of the year. Warmer temperatures will drive up energy consumption for cooling, threaten the health of New Yorkers, and possibly increase the number of disease-bearing insects.
Reduce greenhouse gas emissions: The City has committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 30% or more by 2030 relative to 2005 levels. To complete this goal, the City set out four strategies that, when combined, will reduce CO2 equivalent emissions by 48.7 million metric tons.
- Avoid urban sprawl by creating sustainable housing, providing parks, expanding and improving mass transit, reclaiming contaminated land, creating open waterways for recreation, ensuring reliable water and energy supply, and planting trees. Within the United States, New York City residents, on a per capita basis, produce less than a third of the national average CO2 emissions. This efficiency is a result of dense neighborhoods with stores and services within walking distance and its extensive mass transit system.
- Improve the City’s electricity supply by replacing inefficient power plants, expanding Clean Distributed Generation, and promoting renewable power sources.
- Reduce energy consumption in buildings by improving building efficiency, updating and enforcing efficiency standards, increasing appliance efficiency, and increasing energy awareness and public education. Currently, buildings account for 69% of the City’s emissions, compared to 32% nationally.
- Enhance New York City’s transportation systems by reducing vehicle use, improving the efficiency of private vehicles and taxis, and decreasing CO2-intense fuels. Roughly 25% of the City’s emissions come from transportation, 70% of that is from private vehicles.
While greenhouse gas mitigation efforts are a fundamental aspect to any sustainability plan, PlaNYC further endeavors to embark on a broad effort to adapt the City to unavoidable climate change by promoting adaptation measures. The three adaptation strategies are:
- Create an Intergovernmental Task Force on Climate Change to protect the city’s infrastructure such as water supply, sewer, wastewater treatment systems, subterranean subway systems, power plants, and other critical infrastructure.
- Work with vulnerable neighborhoods to develop local strategies using community planning to engage community members in problem solving and effectively communicate preferred solutions. The City has partnered with Columbia University, UPROSE, and the Sunset Park community to design a standardized process to engage waterfront neighborhoods in conversations about climate change adaptation.
- Launch a citywide strategic planning process for climate change adaptation to comprehensively assess the risks, costs, and potential solutions for adapting to climate change. To complete this, the City will create a New York City Climate Change Advisory Board to help the Office of Long-term Planning and Sustainability develop a planning framework based upon a risk-based, cost-benefit assessment to inform investment decisions, establish clear metrics and decision points, and assess possible strategies to protect against flooding and storm surge. The City also plans to update its 100-year floodplain maps, which have not been updated since 1983; this will allow the City to develop standards that qualify residents for reduced premiums for flood insurance. The City also plans to amend its building codes to better address the impacts of climate change such as flooding, droughts, warmer temperatures, high winds, and heat waves.
Since the release of PlaNYC, 16 supporting reports have been issued on a variety of topics including annual inventories of New York City’s greenhouse gas emissions, New York City Green Codes, regulatory gaps and other threats related to New York City's wetlands, a Sustainable Stormwater Management Plan, a study on exploring the adoption of electrical vehicles for the city, and multiple PlaNYC progress reports.
Feifel, K. (2010). PlaNYC: A Comprehensive Sustainability Plan for New York City [Case study on a project of New York City]. Product of EcoAdapt's State of Adaptation Program. Retrieved from CAKE: http://www.cakex.org/case-studies/planyc-comprehensive-sustainability-p… (Last updated April 2010)