It’s Time to Decarbonize Public Buildings and Upgrade New York

By Peter Aronson

Action and legislation to decarbonize buildings in New York State is a top priority for the New York League of Conservation Voters in 2023.

Our reason is simple: Buildings are the leading source of greenhouse gas emissions and co-pollutants in New York State. In fact, globally, the annual carbon dioxide emissions from building operations and the construction industry to make the buildings is approximately a third of all carbon emissions, according to a study by

“Without widespread existing building decarbonization across the globe, these buildings will still be emitting CO2 emissions in 2040 and we will not achieve the Paris Agreement’s 1.5 degree target,” according to the report.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency wrote bluntly, “As state and local governments establish climate commitments, achieving emission reductions from buildings is critical for reaching decarbonization goals.” The EPA provides guidelines for decarbonization. 

In late 2022, the New York State Climate Action Council laid out its climate action plan, including that by 2050, 85 percent of all homes and commercial buildings should be electrified and zero-emission building codes adopted statewide, among other important changes. These are all excellent goals. However, for the state to meet its goal of net-zero emissions by 2050, we believe these goals need to be fast-tracked and, therefore, we are urging Gov. Kathy Hochul and the state legislature to make it a top legislative priority in 2023.

New York State now has an historic opportunity to significantly reduce emissions from our highest greenhouse gas producing sector, while simultaneously developing a 21st century workforce that sustains and grows middle-class union jobs. 

We have a two-pronged approach for 2023: 1) decarbonizing public buildings, called UpgradeNY; and 2) creating zero-emission buildings. 

#UpgradeNY is made up of a collaboration of environmental groups, businesses and the labor community that together are urging Gov. Hochul and the legislature to commit to decarbonizing at least 15 of New York’s highest polluting facilities by 2030, which could reduce pollution produced by state-run buildings by roughly 40%. Unions would train apprentices from disadvantaged communities for these jobs, thereby making this program, if adopted, the most important step the state has taken to ensure a just transition and provide benefits to disadvantaged communities since it passed the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act in 2019.

If this proposal is adopted, projects would start by 2025 and achieve at least a 30% reduction of on-site emissions from the state-owned buildings portfolio, which includes SUNY and CUNY campuses and government buildings.

“The State must lead by example,” said NYLCV president Julie Tighe.“This is a tremendous opportunity to reduce emissions, provide a cleaner environment for students attending state universities and create good paying jobs.”

In a separate proposal, to achieve zero-emission buildings, we are urging the state government to enact a law banning the use of on-site fossil fuels in new construction. Fortunately, advances in technology–like high-efficiency electric heat pumps–mean we have the tools to decarbonize buildings without adding significant costs to construction. 

We look forward to working on these proposals with state officials and advocacy groups, and we urge Gov. Hochul and the state legislature to take both these steps in 2023.