Climate Smart Communities in New York

Nearly 250 cities, towns and villages in New York are changing the way they operate to fight climate change. At the same time, they are planning how to deal with the impact of extreme weather on their communities’ infrastructure.

These municipalities are part of the state’s nine-year-old Climate Smart Communities (CSC) program, which capitalizes on the fact local governments have direct control or major influence on most of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions. Local action is critical.

Fossil fuel combustion emits almost 14 tons of carbon dioxide per New York resident and local climate protection programs aim to reduce these emissions while preparing their communities for the inevitable impact of climate change.

The CSC program is also designed to save taxpayer dollars by reducing energy costs and improving operational efficiency, increasing energy self-sufficiency and positioning communities for economic growth because green technologies generate more jobs per dollar than conventional fuel technologies.

To join the program, city council or town boards adopt a resolution acknowledging the reality of climate change and committing to reducing their carbon emissions while preparing their communities for continued extreme weather events.

The CSC guide lays out ten certification goals and communities must achieve one and then be certified by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

Municipalities are making rapid strides and reducing their greenhouse gas emissions by substantial amounts—from 20% to 50%—with plans for continued reductions. Their emission reduction policies include switching to clean and alternative power sources, retrofitting buildings, and encouraging walking, biking, and mass transit. At the same time, they’re working to mitigate the impact of extreme weather with infrastructure improvements and changing building and zoning codes to make their communities more flood resilient.

The city of Kingston has seen major flooding in waterfront neighborhoods when major weather events including Hurricane Sandy caused the waters of Roundout Creek to flood waterfront streets in the city. As an early CSC member and one of a handful to earn Silver Certification from the program, Kingston created a waterfront long-term resiliency plan that includes redesigning the city’s waterfront, adding facilities, making it pedestrian-friendly, and planning for rising waters. It is also changing building and zoning codes to make the city more flood resilient in a cost-effective and socially equitable way. Infrastructure improvements include restoring a failing waterfront bulkhead (a barrier between water and land) using state grant money,

The village of Dobbs Ferry, also Silver Certified, took the pledge in 2009 and committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent. By 2014, the municipality had already reduced emissions from buildings and street lights by 45 percent. Some of the measures it has taken to reduce emissions include replacing almost half of its streetlights using LED lighting, retrofitting the Dobbs Ferry public library heating and cooling systems, and installing solar power systems in the library and the Department of Public Works.  This follows years of other efforts to cut carbon emissions by promoting walking, bicycling and mass transit through improved sidewalks and establishing safe walking routes to schools and other initiatives.

Another Silver Certified Community is Tompkins County in eastern New York. They reduced their greenhouse gas emissions by 50% from 2008 to 2014. The county purchases hydroelectric power, a clean source that provides 79% of its power. It is transitioning its fleet to electric vehicles. The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) recently announced the completion of the largest community solar project in Tompkins County. The Tompkins County’s HeatSmart program educates consumers and businesses about how they can fight climate change.  

NYLCV will continue to advocate for these types of local policies that reduce emissions and make communities more sustainable.