The US left the Paris Climate Accord on June 1, 2017. Since then US mayors have made urgent commitments through Climate Mayors, We are Still In, and other avenues to illustrate America’s commitment to the environment at the city level.
We’ve previously covered the Omnibus Bill in Washington DC, and there is similar action taking place in New York City with its Green New Deal – which follows similarly ambitious legislation in Maine, Oregon, Colorado, New Mexico, California, and New Jersey.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the City’s plan to address global warming, the Green New Deal, in April 2019. Comprised of $14 billion in new and committed investments, legislation, and action at the City level, the Green New Deal is aimed at a nearly 30 percent additional reduction in emissions by 2030, with much of the strategy focusing on the built environment. In July, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act into law.
New York City is frontloading the most significant greenhouse gas reductions for the coming decade by going after the largest source of emissions in New York – buildings. New York City will mandate that all existing buildings larger than 25,000 sf cut emissions. In addition, the Administration will convert government operations to 100 percent clean electricity, implement a plan to reduce vehicle emissions, and ban inefficient all-glass buildings that waste energy.
The policies are laid out in “OneNYC 2050: Building a Strong and Fair City,” a plan to prepare New York City for the future and leading the way for the nation on how to address the threats posed by climate change, economic insecurity, inequity, and rising global intolerance.
The components of the Green New Deal that are most relevant to real estate developers, owners, operators, and architects include:
- Requiring buildings cut their emissions.With the passage of the building mandates law, New York City will require all existing buildings of 25,000 square feet or more, of which there are 50,000 citywide, to make efficiency upgrades that lower their energy usage and emissions – or face steep penalties starting in 2024.
- Banning new inefficient glass-walled buildings.The City will no longer allow all-glass facades in new construction unless they meet strict performance guidelines.
- Mandatory organics recycling.The City will make organics collection mandatory citywide, expanding the country’s largest organics management program, including curbside pickup, drop-off sites, and support for community composting opportunities.
- Comprehensive resilience planning.The City is executing its $20 billion resiliency plan to address the threats of coastal storms, sea-level rise, extreme heat, and increased precipitation with projects and programs across the city. Resilience design guidelines for New York City can be found here.
- Traffic congestion reduction.The City will support the implementation of congestion pricing to reduce traffic in Manhattan and help fix the broken subway system, while also improving bus speeds 25 percent by the end of 2020.
The Green New Deal in New York City joins the CLCPA in New York State, which also targets zero carbon emissions economy-wide.
De Blasio referenced Hudson Yards slim glass towers in his explanations that this legislation would prevent new buildings from being composed of traditional glass and steel, which are poor insulants with inadequate energy performance because they waste heat and electricity, driving up carbon emissions.
Glass will still be permitted – so long as its performance reduces heat gain and absorbs sunlight; or so long as the structure offsets air leakage with efficient temperature control systems and other technologies.
Glass buildings have been under increasing scrutiny as rating systems like LEED shift from prescriptive to performance measurement. It’s worth noting that glass buildings can be efficient – and that non-glass buildings can be inefficient. This shift toward performance-based evaluation will help the entire industry to develop a more mature understanding of what is – and isn’t – environmentally sustainable.
De Blasio promises significant fines of up to $1M to large building owners that do not cut emissions by 40% by 2030 and by 80 percent by 2050.
There’s still lingering confusion about how the law is structured, which is having the short-term unintended consequence of delaying some retrofits. There’s also pressure on legislators to consider additional factors in how building performance is measured, such as density and the efficiency already achieved in some modern buildings.
What’s clear is that New York City is recognized globally for its economic impact, and has a uniquely powerful voice. As it joins a host of other cities pushing building developers, owners, operators, and designers out of their comfort zone on performance, those same groups in cities nationwide should be paying attention.