NYC Council Speaker Johnson Unveils Strategies to Fight Climate Change

New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson’s State of the City speech, expected March 12th, 2020, was postponed to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19. However, the Speaker still released a report detailing the policies that he will prioritize when our current public health crisis has passed.

Speaker Johnson’s report, titled “Securing Our Future: Strategies for New York City in the Fight Against Climate Change,” is a call to action for increased climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts throughout New York City. The scientific consensus is extremely clear: climate change is an imminent threat that must be addressed today to create a resilient, healthy, and equitable city in the future. The key areas of focus in the Speaker’s report are Resiliency; Energy and Emissions; Sustainable, Circular Economy; and Green Jobs Pipeline. Each section of the report identifies key goals and specific strategies and programs that will help achieve these objectives.


The focus of resiliency is to protect New York City from impending environmental risks and plan for climate change adaptation. Included are plans to protect coastal areas, cool down hot areas of the city, and enhance green infrastructure and surfaces.

New York City is especially vulnerable to sea level rise because a sizable portion of the City is coastal. Climate change will increase storm flooding, tidal flooding, and land inundation. To combat these challenges, New York City must prepare to ensure that residents are safe during flooding events, infrastructure is protected to remain intact, and infrastructure recovers quickly. These resiliency projects can take many forms such as seawalls, living breakwaters, flood walls, or flood barriers. The key strategy is to develop an all-encompassing five-borough coastal resiliency plan to pinpoint vulnerabilities and implement the necessary measures to maintain safety during storms and flooding. Additionally, the federal government should continue utilizing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for their NY/NJ Harbor Studies and use FEMA and HUD for coastal resiliency projects. Other strategies to increase resiliency in New York City include amending the Building Code to be more sustainable, revitalizing the Mayor’s Office of Resiliency FloodHelpNY Program, and creating a tri-state regional commission involving New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut.

Rising temperatures disproportionally affect older individuals and those with existing health conditions. It is fundamental that New York mitigate and adapt to extreme heat to protect public health. The City must create a communications plan to relay heat exposure health risks to the public, and educate residents about how to stay cool. Cooling assistance should be deployed to populations that are most at-risk, including more resources for low-income, senior, and disabled populations to receive air conditioners. Additionally, the City should build more public cooling centers, and use cool roofs to mitigate the urban heat island effect.

Increasing the city’s greenscaping and tree canopy are useful for managing storm runoff, improving shade and coverage for cooling, and enhancing air quality. To upgrade green infrastructure to produce a more sustainable city, New York must update its combined sewer overflow infrastructure to reduce stormwater volume and decrease water pollutants. Additionally, the City must invest in filling tree pits and more sustainable playgrounds, transforming dead ends into green spaces, and greening bus stops. To increase the number of sustainable surfaces throughout the City, sustainable pavements must be tested more frequently and implemented.

Energy and Emissions

This section outlines methods for New York City to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, reduce fossil fuel usage, and create a cleaner energy economy. The goals include reducing building emissions, protecting indoor air quality, and electrifying the public and private transportation sector.

Currently, renewable energy only accounts for about 5% of New York State’s electricity. The City must invest in clean energy to combat fossil fuel use. New York City can work with the State to increase transmission capacity for renewable energy sources, encourage Con Edison to eliminate fossil fuels with revamped grid infrastructure, and repurpose the City’s Public Utility. The transformation of Rikers Island into a hub for renewable energy would be extremely advantageous for New York City in achieving clean energy goals.

Buildings are a massive source of greenhouse gas emissions in New York City. The City must limit emissions from large buildings and ensure that they are ready to be electrified. Benchmarking smaller buildings would also be a useful tracking tool to provide quantitative measurements to improve building sustainability.

Poor air quality threatens public health and increases rates of asthma and other health issues. To ensure that indoor air quality is secure, New York City should service HVAC systems more frequently, produce an online platform for community air quality programs, and utilize air quality-safe construction materials and techniques.

Second only to buildings, transportation is another huge contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. A key strategy to limit transportation emissions is transitioning school buses to be 100% electric by 2040. New York City has thousands of cars on its roads, so the City should encourage biking, walking, or taking public transportation as resident’s main source of transportation. The federal government should also take action to increase fuel economy standards and strengthen emissions requirements.

Electrification is crucial to make the transportation sector cleaner. Presently, access to charging stations and other electric vehicle infrastructure, such as parking spaces, is limited; however, the city should expand electric vehicle projects to encourage more people to buy and drive these automobiles.

Sustainable, Circular Economy

A new type of circular economy strives to increase sustainability measures in New York City and reduce solid waste, air and water pollution. Specifically, the City is looking to encourage higher recycling rates, divert textile waste from landfills, reduce waste generally, and reuse materials more often.

New York City has an ambitious goal to send zero waste to landfills by 2030. To achieve this, the City must increase New Yorkers’ ability to recycle and teach proper recycling techniques. More quantitative data must be collected and analyzed to understand recycling compliance and trends. Additionally, organic waste, when sent to landfills, produces harmful methane. Instead, the City should encourage composting and mandate organic separation and collection. Organic waste can also be repurposed into fertilizer or biogas.

A majority of clothing and textiles are able to be recycled or reused; however, much of it ends up in landfills. The City must decrease household textile waste and increase textile donation, reuse, and pick-up services. RefashionNYC is an initiative that collects textiles from many different types of buildings to appropriately handle them. Expanding sorting and storage facilities for textiles would assist these processes. The City could also provide more support to small businesses to encourage a circular economy within their business and make them more sustainable.

Construction and demolition is a big source of solid waste in New York City. To mitigate this, the City should recycle construction materials, create an all-encompassing building material database to improve environmental considerations during the construction process, and produce more sustainable carpeting.

Other methods to minimize waste include limiting single-use plastics, reducing junk mail to decrease waste from mass mailings, starting a conscious consumerism campaign to encourage people to reflect on their consumption patterns, and improving steps to decrease littering.

Green Jobs Pipeline

To meet many of the goals in the report, a large workforce will have to be dedicated to green jobs. To produce these new jobs, the City must improve work-based learning programs and increase accessibility to Green STEM.

As a first step, it is fundamental that the Mayor’s Office of Workforce Development focuses on developing green jobs. The Office must use quantitative data to track the necessity of certain green jobs, identify green jobs across all sectors, match job seekers with green jobs, increase diversity across these platforms, and implement performance measurement objectives to monitor the success of green jobs.

Students entering the workforce must also be exposed to green jobs. Green internships and work-study programs should be expanded to encourage students to enter these fields. Similarly, access to Green STEM is important for students to learn about these pressing environmental issues at a young age. Green STEM expansion should take place in the classrooms of all DOE schools, in after-school programs, and as part of a climate change education program. Guidance and resources for students seeking green jobs should be readily available so that they can help build a sustainable, green workforce that moves New York toward its climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts.

Speaker Johnson’s report lays out an impressive, detailed approach to fighting climate change and includes many NYLCV priorities, including citywide organic waste recycling and 100% electric school buses by 2040. When the coronavirus crisis passes, NYLCV looks forward to working with Speaker Johnson to implement his bold plan to move New York City forward.