New York City is globally known for many things, but until recently, The Big Apple was never known for its climate change policy. The bright lights, speeding cars, and energy sucking skyscrapers have, over the years, all contributed to a growing climate change problem – enough to get the entire city involved.
In 2007, under the leadership of then-Mayor Bloomberg, the city started PlaNYC, a program aimed at improving the lives of all New Yorkers and building a more environmentally sustainable city. Each year since then, the Mayor’s Office has put out a comprehensive report addressing both progress and future goals. The 2014 Progress Report was just released. Don’t have time to read the 100+ pages? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. Here’s a rundown of what the city’s planning and how its doing on achieving past plans.
AltEnergyNYC’s overall grade for the PlaNYC 2014 progress: B+.
With over 8 million people living together in such a small land area, reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, finding places to plant trees, and enhancing air quality are all difficult tasks, so for that we’ll give the city credit.
1. REDUCING GREENHOUSE GASES
The major highlight of each year’s PlaNYC progress report is the 30 by 30 plan. In 2007, environmental experts and city officials created a goal of reducing GHG emissions to 30% below 2005 levels by the year 2030. In 7 years, GHG emissions in the city have been reduced by 19%, making the city nearly ⅔ of the way to the 30 by 30 goal, which now looks like it’ll be achieved by 2017 if the current efforts continue.
2. PLANTING MORE TREES
So accustomed to the concrete jungle, New Yorkers are happy to see as many trees as possible throughout the city, and in this area the city also does not disappoint. Since 2007, MillionTrees NYC, a partnership between PlaNYC, NYC Parks and the New York Restoration Project has planted over 840,000 trees, quite close to the goal to plant 1,000,000 trees by 2030.
3. BETTER AIR QUALITY
Perhaps most impressive of all, NYC now has the cleanest air quality the city has had in the last 50 years. Due in large part to new policies regulating the way New Yorkers are allowed to heat their homes, sulfur dioxide emissions are down 69% and soot levels are lower, too, according to the report. This figure is expected to get even better as more buildings comply with the new heating regulations.
Even with the aforementioned successes, the city still has some major improvements to make particularly relating to solid waste, GHG emissions in landfills, and inconsistent achievements based on neighborhood location.
1. TOO MUCH SOLID WASTE
The percentage of waste diverted from landfills in 2013 was only 52%, meaning that just about half off all the city’s waste ended up in landfills, contributing to significant GHG emissions. The 2030 goal is to divert 75% of solid waste from landfills, and although there is still 16 years to go, 52% is not a satisfactory figure.
2. GHG EMISSIONS FROM LANDFILLS
A large portion of this waste is food waste and with the huge number of restaurants in the city, GreeNYC was created to help lower GHG emissions in landfills by working with restaurants to waste less food. In 2013, about half of the 100 participating restaurants kept 50% of their food waste out of landfills. This is a good start, but with tens of thousands of restaurants in the city, according to the U.S. Census, having only 100 participants in the program with only a 50% success rate is not acceptable and needs to be increased in future years.
3. LACK OF CONSISTENCY THROUGHOUT THE CITY
Lastly, the amount of carbon emissions throughout the city varied and created inconsistent figures based on GHG causing activity in different parts of the city. For example, more people drive uptown and in the outer boroughs, knowing this figure, the city should take more initiative to implement more programs in these areas especially as more residents move uptown.
There’s some good (and bad) news for the city here, but what does it all mean for the average New Yorker? Under the new plan, we’re breathing easier (we’re nationally ranked as having some of the cleanest air for a big city) and we’re seeing more trees, but we’re still filling up our landfills.
There are initiatives the city can take, and as more developers move into the city, these new regulations and policies will prove to be more important than ever, but it’s still up to each and every New Yorker to do their part within their own homes, not only for their wallets, but also for the greater environmental good of the city.
At AltEnergyNYC we’ll show you ways that New Yorkers are coming together to make the most of the city’s alternate energy capacity and hopefully inspire you to get involved, too.