Earth Day signals a time where we go out and take a moment to appreciate the environment, and take action to minimize the harm that has been done to it. In New York City, this means coming together to decrease the amount of greenhouse gas emissions entering the atmosphere, starting with the buildings that make up our skylines and community.
In 2019, the City of New York passed Local Law 97 (LL97) as a part of the Climate Mobilization Act to reduce carbon emissions from buildings. This groundbreaking law puts caps on the carbon output of most buildings larger than 25,000 square feet, which make up around 50,000 of the residential and commercial properties across the city. These caps require the largest buildings to cut emissions and for the city to reduce annual emissions from city government operations starting in 2024, with decreases by 40% by 2025, 50% by 2030, and 80% by 2050.
These upgrades would transform the New York City carbon landscape, as buildings and energy were responsible for two thirds of NYC’s annual emissions in 2019, emitting 37.3 million metric tons of CO2e, in comparison to the 17.8 million metric tons from the transportation and waste sectors combined.
In an April 13 testimony at the first hearing on decarbonization for both the New York City Council and Mayor Eric Adams’ administration, Department of Environmental Protection Chief Climate Officer and Commissioner Rohit Aggarwala established that New York City is the most carbon inefficient community in the United States, and that the goals established by LL97 will allow New York to reach the ambitious statewide emission goals established in 2019.
“The Adams administration is fully committed to achieving the important greenhouse gas emissions limits established in the law,” said Aggarwala. “There should be no question about our commitment to these limits.”
Commissioner Aggarwala emphasized that the decarbonization work in New York must go beyond buildings, extending to renewable power, transportation development, and waste management, as well as the importance of prioritizing environmental justice. In implementing this law, the Adams administration seeks to create green jobs and boost economic growth in sectors negatively affected by the pandemic, according to Aggarwala.
While the ability to fine those who do not comply with this law is vital in reducing emissions, Aggarwala highlighted that the Climate Mobilization Act seeks to combat climate change through the unified efforts of those involved. Fines issued, he argued, reflects a failure of the whole to work together to save the planet, as he went on to acknowledge that the enforcement of this law will be a labor-intensive process.
With just over a hundred days into the Adams administration, Aggarwala outlined the main priorities at this point in time:
- Establishing rules to allow affected buildings to comply for the first deadline,
- Engaging in conversations regarding alternative retrofits in affordable housing,
- Considering additional funding, finance, and technical assistance opportunities,
- Offering enforcement flexibility to assist buildings operating in good faith to achieve compliance with the law,
- Simultaneously working to achieve an overall greener electric grid, outlined in Tier 4.
“This is a tremendous opportunity for New York City,” Aggarwala said. “Mayor Adams’ economic development blueprint explicitly calls out the fact that Local Law 97 has the potential to create thousands of new jobs – well-paying, career-oriented jobs for both blue collar and white collar workers.”
As the city begins to implement LL97, NYLCV Associate for NYC Programs Carlos Castell Croke testified that the priority must now be placed on working with building owners to prepare and expand access to the necessary resources to comply with this law. While there will be consequences for non-compliance, Croke asserted, the primary purpose of this law is to reduce emissions, echoing the sentiments of Commissioner Aggarwala. Therefore, building owners must be given multiple tools to do so, and the rules that will be used in this process must be established as soon as possible.
By extension, the city must ramp up programs like PACE to make sure retrofits are affordable and ensure that renewable energy is available by approving upstate Tier 4 projects. This law is a critical step towards reducing emissions and combating climate change; with the dangerous implications of the climate crisis being seen more each day, we cannot afford any delays. LL97 allows New York to continue setting an example for the rest of the world, leading the way to a greener, more sustainable future.