From PlaNYC to OneNYC: A Comprehensive Sustainability Plan for New York City
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. Eight years later, New York released an updated strategic document: OneNYC. This reinvigorated strategy reviews the potential climate change impacts on New York City, steps to reduce the city’s greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, and 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 outlined a strategy to reduce the City’s greenhouse gas emissions and plans for sustainable population growth of nearly one million. PlaNYC had 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 backup system for the City’s water system
- Repair and improve the City’s transportation infrastructure
- Provide cleaner, more reliable power sources
- Reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than 30% by 2030 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
Following changes to PlaNYC in 2011, the city released an updated strategic document in 2015 under the name OneNYC as part of New York City’s Green New Deal, citing a need for more aggressive emissions reduction goals, among other changes. This plan builds upon prior long-term goals by continuing to focus on the themes of growth, resilience, and sustainability.
The Livable Climate section of OneNYC reviews the potential climate change impacts to the city, suggests strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 100% by 2050, 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 extreme 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 by 2050 temperatures in New York are expected to rise by 5.7°F on average. Warmer temperatures will drive up energy consumption for cooling, threaten the health of New Yorkers, and possibly increase the number of disease-bearing insects. Extreme heat is already the leading cause of weather-related deaths in the city.
Reduce greenhouse gas emissions: New York City has reduced its emissions by 17% from a 2005 baseline. The city has committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions 100% by 2050. To complete this goal, the city set out five strategies that, when combined, will significantly reduce CO2-equivalent emissions:
- Attain 100% clean electricity sources by 2040 through the development of solar sources and energy storage as well as upstate and offshore wind farms, and open the city’s grid to new renewables;
- Simultaneously pursue significant emission reductions with increased infrastructure efficiency by updating and enforcing efficiency standards, increasing appliance efficiency, and increasing energy awareness and public education. These actions can be supported by increasing the capacity of programs that conduct retrofits such as Community Retrofit NYC;
- Implement a sustainable transportation system by reducing vehicle use, creating a city-wide system of electric vehicle charging stations, and incentivizing emissions reductions in both commercial and municipal fleets;
- Adopt zero-waste strategies across the city by expanding capacity for organics processing, maximizing the diversion of waste such as textiles and traditional recyclables, and phasing in a mandatory organics program; and
- Support every New Yorker through these steps towards a more sustainable future by increasing climate and sustainability outreach, maximizing civic action and engagement, and increasing incentives for residents to reduce their emissions.
While greenhouse gas mitigation efforts are a fundamental aspect of any sustainability plan, OneNYC further endeavors to embark on a broad effort to prepare the city for unavoidable climate change impacts by promoting adaptation measures. In addition to carbon neutrality, the living climate sections of OneNYC has three other central climate initiatives:
- Increase the resilience of communities, infrastructure, and waterfronts by supporting science to inform adaptation plans; developing policies that support resilience; and implementing critical actions such as stormwater management, extreme heat mitigation, and coastal protection.
- Build climate initiatives to support economic opportunities for all New Yorkers (e.g., investing in a carbon-neutral future, incentivizing green technology, green jobs workforce development, and training).
- Advocating for climate justice and accountability by pursuing lawsuits against the city’s fossil fuel companies, tightly regulating greenhouse gas emissions, and establishing partnerships to ensure that climate change is addressed on a global scale.
OneNYC publishes annual progress reports of accomplishments and necessary next steps to further each goal. Progress reports include notes on the lead agency spearheading each supporting initiative and milestone statuses.
Outcomes and Conclusions
Since the initial release of PlaNYC, supporting reports have been issued every year 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 electric vehicles for the city, and several OneNYC progress reports.
Feifel, K. (2020). From PlaNYC to OneNYC: A Comprehensive Sustainability Plan for New York City [Case study on a project of New York City]. Version 2.0. Product of EcoAdapt's State of Adaptation Program. (Last updated August 2020)