NYC passes its own ‘Green New Deal’ in landmark vote

“You cannot overstate how big a deal this is,” said one advocate

The legislation would require massive retrofits for buildings over 25,000 square feet, such as the Empire State Building.
 Max Touhey

The New York City Council passed a pioneering package of bills Thursday that seeks to drastically slash carbon emissions from thousands of buildings across the boroughs—marking a watershed moment in the city’s fight against climate change.

The bundle of six bills, known as the Climate Mobilization Act, is geared toward reducing the city’s planet-warming emissions by setting caps for a variety of building types, with the goal of achieving a 40 percent decrease in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. Landlords who don’t adapt their buildings will face hefty fines.

The most dramatic measure would require buildings of more than 25,000 square feet—which are responsible for 30 percent of the city’s carbon emissions—to conduct retrofits, such as new windows and insulation, to make those buildings more energy-efficient. The aggressive bill is a crucial step toward protecting the city’s vulnerable costal communities, said the Queens Council member who spearheaded the legislation.

“There are talks about the Rockaways, Coney Island, and neighborhoods in Staten Island literally being wiped off the map by the end of this century if we do not act,” said Council member Costa Constantinides, who represents northern Queens, during Thursday’s vote. “No single-handed policy can completely reverse the effects of climate change, but this policy, when enacted, will be the largest emissions reduction policy in the history of New York City or any city anywhere.”

Come 2024, the legislation mandates landlords move toward cutting their building emissions 40 percent by 2030, and would put the city on a path toward reducing its carbon emissions by a whopping 80 percent by 2050. Such efforts are being mulled by states, New York among them, as Congress’s proposed Green New Deal—which seeks to tackle climate change and create high-paying jobs in clean energy—is debated across the nation.

“Our planet is closing in on a breaking point … we have to transition from investing in fossil fuel infrastructure to clean, renewable energy,” Council Speaker Corey Johnson said during the vote. “We have to act decisively and we have to act now.”

Advocates who fought for the act call its passage a “monumental moment.”

“This is New York’s ‘green new deal,’” said Pete Sikora, the director of climate and inequality campaigns with New York Communities for Change, told Curbed Thursday. “You cannot overstate how big a deal this is, there is no city world wide anywhere that has set emission limits on this scale.”