New York City lawmakers have approved an ambitious plan to cap carbon emissions from the city’s largest buildings beginning in 2024.
The Climate Mobilization Act, approved on a 45-2 vote April 18, affects residential and commercial buildings larger than 25,000 square feet and is aimed at helping New York lower its overall carbon emissions 80% by the middle of the century.
A summary provided by the Urban Green Council says that the new emissions limits — contributing to a planned 40% drop in emissions by 2030, compared to 2005 levels — will require extensive retrofits in many buildings. The new caps will affect an estimated 50,000 buildings.
The legislation sets limits for greenhouse gas emissions on a square footage basis. For example, The New York Times reported, the Empire State Building currently produces 6.27 kilograms of carbon dioxide per square foot per year but would be required to reduce that to 4.53 kilograms per square foot in 2030. Building owners who fail to meet the new caps could face fines in the millions of dollars.
The legislation, which Mayor Bill de Blasio has pledged to sign, includes prescriptive energy-saving measures rather than emissions limits for some building types, including houses of worship, apartment buildings with rent-controlled units, and hospitals. Some real estate executives complained that the number of those exceptions would place a greater burden on other building owners. The owner of one 437-unit building in Queens, which was constructed in the 1950s, said that the plan’s goals are “totally unattainable.”
John H. Banks, president of the Real Estate Board of New York, said in a statement that the real estate industry supports the effort to lower carbon emissions. But the measure approved by lawmakers covers only half of the city’s building stock, he said, and would make it difficult to attract and retain technology, media, finance, and life science industries. The cumulative cost to building owners for making upgrades would be at least $4 billion, he said.
According to a report from the Climate Works for All coalition, 70% of total greenhouse gas emissions in New York come from buildings. Just 2% of the city’s 1 million buildings account for 45% of the city’s total energy consumption. The coalition’s report takes aim at what it calls “New York City’s elite emitters” who live in luxury buildings that have the biggest impact on climate.
“It is no surprise that without energy efficiency measures in place, luxury buildings will have enormous impacts on climate, especially given their super-sized amenities,” the report said. “Inefficient buildings with heated indoor pools, private fitness centers, and private performance rooms all require energy resources above and beyond the typical residential building.”
Among them are two Trump properties, which ranked third and fourth in terms of energy use intensity (EUI).
If some real estate executives were unhappy with the plan, supporters said the bill would create 40,000 jobs per year, including more than 23,000 construction jobs. In the long run, renovations that lower carbon emissions also will lower operating costs, proponents said.
Building owners also may be able to offset carbon reductions by buying energy generated from renewable resources, a provision the Urban Green Council said makes compliance more flexible.
“This law sets tough requirements for buildings to reduce carbon emissions. But it does so with innovative policy approaches that make it possible,” John Mandyck, CEO of Urban Green Council, said in a statement. “The ability to offset requirements with renewable power is an important incentive to green the grid, and the provision for building carbon trading is a breakthrough approach relevant to cities nationally and globally.”
New rules for skyscrapers
At a press conference on Monday, which was Earth Day, de Blasio described the impact of the new carbon emissions law and outlined several other steps the city would take as part of the NYC Green New Deal:
- All electricity used by city government will switch to renewable sources within five years. The mayor said electricity would come from sources such as Hydro-Québec.
- City energy codes will be rewritten to discourage traditional glass-and-steel high-rise buildings. They are architectural icons of New York City, but what de Blasio called “examples of the wrong way to do things.” If designers want to include significant amounts of glass on the exterior, they will have to increase building efficiency to compensate for it.
- The city also will divest its pension funds of $5 billion in oil stocks.