In New York, de Blasio adopts climate plan – or at least pieces of it

The day after rising temperatures triggered the hottest March day in New York City, the mayor was holding a news conference to tell the world that New York City is taking climate change seriously.

Manhattan smashes March temperature record as US swelters under heatwave Read more

“We have an obligation to adapt and to take the appropriate steps to improve our own healthcare, our financial security, and our quality of life. We must not wait for federal climate policy, which means we must get started now on the toughest, most effective action we can take to create a clean energy economy in New York City,” mayor Bill de Blasio said at a March 7 event on sea level rise.

To make a real difference, the mayor said, he was drafting a binding climate action plan for all New York City agencies. However, he sounded a note of warning: “The impacts of climate change are already beginning to be felt. They’re accelerating. They are worse than we can ignore today, and the effects of climate change cannot be taken off the table.”

Pressure mounted on Monday to publish the plan. The daily temperature hit 57F (14C) in the Big Apple, shattering the previous high by five degrees – three recorded on 29 March 2010, two in 1928 and two in 1995.

A total of 39 people died as a result of heat stress in New York. The weather led the Met Office to issue its hottest since 1976. The burning of gas or coal to power air conditioners resulted in an area of increased ozone pollution, which can damage people’s lungs and trigger asthma attacks.

The Guardian also reported on 18 March that the majority of public buildings in the city would be revamped to make them more energy efficient, and new appliances would be switched to cleaner fuels. On Tuesday it was revealed that the biggest apartments in Central Park could be incorporated into the plan.

In the past weeks, the city has also enacted the Climate Roadmap 2050, which aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80% by 2050, from 1990 levels. The mayor and his allies have pledged that the cost of adapting to climate change won’t rise beyond 20% of the projected budget from 2015-2030.

“The federal government may be looking down its nose, but I know enough about this area of environmental policy to understand that mayors can make a difference. And I am taking the reins of New York City and I am going to make a difference,” de Blasio said.

“We can’t wait for federal climate policy. It is impossible for all of us to wait for the federal government. The mayor is committed to this [plan] because it is his responsibility. He is committed to the necessity of climate adaptation.”

The plan released by the mayor’s office said the city would be “more than halfway to its goal” by 2020 and reach its remaining energy reduction goals by 2030. The next step is implementing the Climate Roadmap 2050 in the city by 2021.

New York remains far behind in meeting its Paris Agreement targets. The city pledged to reach 80% emissions reduction by 2050, from 1990 levels. This goal has been scaled back to 60% at current national trends, the mayor’s office said.

The plan is not without setbacks. Last year’s gas cap in Connecticut meant the city had to consider moving its natural gas infrastructure around the state. An independent analysis by Smith McDermott found that to do so would cost a whopping $4.1bn. “The city wants to reduce emissions, but unless you pay what it costs to be there, you’re not doing that very well,” a spokesman for de Blasio told Bloomberg News.

Yusef Robb of the Center for Biological Diversity in New York said the climate plan would be missed if it focused on emissions rather than better care for the people who live near the city’s sensitive resources, like rivers, waterways and forests.

He said: “The city and its residents are hostage to federal inaction on climate policy, including the Trump administration’s flagrant disregard for the realities of sea level rise and extreme weather impacts. It’s unfortunate the city’s environmental leadership is compromised by political backroom deals with states and congress to protect hydrofracking in western New York.”

In Europe, 19 cities have struck carbon neutrality – where they have enough renewable energy to meet their own energy needs – and six more are pursuing a similar path.

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