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News & Views Curation

August 29, 2008

Russia's Climate Impact

Russia's energy interests could pose a bigger challenge to the next US administration's climate control policies than China. Here's why

Can California Cluster?

California considers legislation to create denser clusters of development that would reduce reliance on cars and cut GHG emissions. Not a done deal

August 28, 2008

Obama's Economic Climate

Read this Grist piece, especially for the comments. Scroll down

Climate Talks In Ghana

At the Ghana round of UN climate change meetings, one goal is to clarify 'tools and rules' for the post-Kyoto world. Next up - new emissions targets. Stay tuned

Climate Wargames

Emerging climate impacts have major national security implications and wargames are a strategic planning tool. Explore this website

Too Picken' Big?

The stirring T.Boone Pickens energy plan may be unrealistically ambitious under current conditions writes energy scholar. Think about it

August 27, 2008

From Menus To Musts

LEED moves toward a system that will require energy efficiency and core green building strategies. Opt in

Tax & Drill

A proposal to raise oil company taxes and allow more offshore drilling, with revenues for renewable energy incentives, gains more Senate support. Stay tuned

US: Global Gasoline Source?

With declining domestic demand for gasoline and emerging post-hydrocarbon vehicle technology, the US could become a net exporter of gasoline by 2010. Read more

China Wins

At 3.1 billion tons of carbon emissions, China's electricity generators are projected to beat the US power sector's 2.8 billion tons in 2008. Coal-gold

New Nukes - Risky Business

Does the economics of new nuclear power for the UK add up? Look into it

August 26, 2008

Shale Oil - Salvation?

The supply of US natural gas from shale deposits surges while prices plummet. More expected

Candidates Not Climate Clones

Presidential contenders Obama and McCain disagree on critical paths for grappling with global warming. Learn more

Losing By Example

The headquarters of the UK government agency responsible for cutting buildings' carbon footprints, rates an F for energy efficiency. Duly noted

Squeeze Please

The reliability of wind power could be enhanced by turbines compressing and storing air to generate power when the wind isn't blowing. Plug in

Memories of Next Summer

Photos of fashionable women wrapped in shawls on steamy summer days in NYC make sense to me. They are prepared for cold offices, colder conference rooms and icy shops and subway cars. But if shawls were 2008’s hot weather trend, we’ve got a problem. The need to anticipate arctic conditions indoors is both weird and a sign of profound failure.

Equally odd in these energy-conscious times is a New York Times story on Con Ed’s efforts to build new electric substations around town to keep up with growing power demand. These substations don’t come cheap; a new facility in the Bronx cost $300 million to build and Con Ed has plans to spend $6 billion by 2017 for additional ones. How unfashionable! What will Con Ed spend by 2017 on reducing our demand for energy and improving the efficiency of the systems we have now? The article does not say. Instead, the Times focuses on how community opposition to hosting substations makes such construction difficult and more costly for the utility, but makes no mention of the City’s goal of cutting its carbon emissions 30% by 2030 or potential strategies to rein in energy demand to lower overall consumption and the inevitability of needing more substations. Today, news about our energy infrastructure shouldn’t read like an electric utility’s press release.

Today, we know about the perils of climate change and the sky-high cost of energy, but these stories demonstrate that in some important ways we’re still behaving as if it were a retro carbon-carefree era. The good news is that at the same time our thinking and our commitments are shifting to the realities right ahead of us. Since climate policy should be just as creative as fashion, let’s preview some of the hottest new ideas about urban sustainability.

SEQRA and Climate Change
A major consequence of the US Supreme Court decision in Massachusetts v. E.P.A. (127 S. Ct. 1438, April 2, 2007), holding that carbon dioxide is an air pollutant under the terms of the Clean Air Act, was to give states and cities a firmer basis for controlling this major contributor to global warming. Despite the EPA’s failure to promulgate CO2 emissions regulations, civic, professional and environmental activists have been developing far-reaching ideas for advancing climate policy and greenhouse gas rules at the sub-federal level.

New York’s Municipal Arts Society (MAS), with the input of a working group drawn from diverse expert arenas, is circulating a working draft of “SEQRA and Climate Change”. SEQRA is New York State’s decades-old environmental review statute. As a major tool for assessing the environmental impact of a wide array of proposed actions, inclusion of provisions for assessing the climate impact of a project’s greenhouse gas emissions makes good sense. “SEQRA and Climate Change” identifies the value of this kind of review in helping government agencies, project sponsors and the public to understand the climate consequences of a proposed action “and will help address future impacts related to the largest actions taken in New York State in the land-use, energy, industrial transportation and other sectors.” This working draft sets out a detailed framework for analyzing climate change in an environmental impact statement under SEQRA and it is compatible with the goals of PlaNYC 2030. As Mayor Bloomberg said when describing the impetus for his plan, “We soon realized that you can’t formulate a land use plan without thinking about transportation and you can’t think about transportation without thinking about air quality. You can’t think about air quality without thinking about energy and you certainly can’t think about energy – or any of this – without thinking about global warming”. This rightly puts land use and public policy front and center of State and City climate efforts.

It would not be a great stretch for the New York City’s own Environmental Quality Review law to adopt analogous requirements, nor would it be the first time in the U.S. that environmental reviews were expanded to incorporate climate impact considerations. The MAS report builds on leadership in Massachusetts, California, and Seattle Washington where analysis of climate impacts is a routine part of public review and approval. Presently, the MAS is circulating its report among experts, civic and political leaders, seeking their support for making this kind of analysis an integral part of State and City environmental reviews.

Greening the Zoning Resolution
Another venerable body of rules with a pervasive impact on urban land use and development -- which has climate ramifications that are just beginning to be considered -- is the New York City Zoning Resolution. It was last thoroughly overhauled in 1961; from a climate and environmental perspective, 1961 is pre-history. Now, attorneys from the City Bar Association's Land Use, Planning and Zoning Committee have convened a working group of architects, engineers, city planners, environmental attorneys and activists, as well as representatives from grass roots community groups to brainstorm and craft an idea menu for bringing the Zoning Resolution into the 21st
Century's climate change context. The menu of new zoning text ideas could range from the simple to the ambitious. The Committee will evaluate the workshop results and consider its next steps. 

The working group is divided into several topical sub-groups, including energy, transportation, air quality, climate change and water quality. For the energy committee, the value of green zoning is directly connected to meeting New York City's goal of cutting its carbon footprint 30% by the year 2030. Members are discussing an array of building envelope ideas such how to shrink a building's carbon footprint by influencing the allowable floor area, height, or other zoning-regulated building elements. The other sub-groups are considering how to use the zoning to reach PlaNYC’s other goals.

As with the Municipal Arts Society, the Bar Association’s initiative and engagement with formulating tools and strategies for combating climate change at the state and city level shows how public policy can be made and how to advance the education, understanding and buy in of broader publics. Forging ideas that are smart and effective enough to withstand the rough and tumble of the inevitable up-hill struggle to actually change the way we live and work is too important to be left to term-limited, distractible elected officials.

Green Codes Task Force
Although term limits are a reality for New York City politicians and the four-year election cycle is a fact of life for public office holders, of course there is plenty that can be done with the time that’s available. At the request of Mayor Bloomberg, the New York chapter of the US Green Building Council has kicked off a Green Codes Task Force. With architects, engineers, senior city government staff, attorneys, developers, environmentalists, unions and academics working on eight technical committees, the Task Force is currently reviewing the City’s construction codes, identify obstacles to high performance building and make 100 recommendations to encourage green practices in this industry. Its recommendations are due by the end of 2008. Stay tuned!

Green Jobs/Green Economy
All this green ferment could have stimulating and even long-lasting impacts on the local, regional and national labor market and economy. A report by the Political Economy Research Institute, University of Massachusetts identifies six “strategies” with significant potential for growth and good jobs and concludes that, “Millions of U.S. workers – across a wide range of occupations, states and income levels – will all benefit from the project of defeating global warming and transforming the United States into a green economy.” Green-collar job advocates like the NYC Apollo Alliance and the Center for Working Families are developing ideas to harness this ferment to growing a green-collar labor force for a green economy that will supply the right market opportunities in New York City. To this end, Apollo organized a green-collar jobs round table with over one hundred participants in June 2008; this was the first step in creating a workforce development plan to be launched early in 2009. In a similar vein, the Center for Working Families is rolling out a Green Jobs/Green Homes campaign that aims to create statewide green homes energy retrofit program and which would provide good paying jobs for New Yorkers.

Turning to the economic development side of this equation, the City’s Economic Development Corporation, carrying the torch of the Mayor’s PlaNYC aspirations, has issued a Request For Proposal for a consultant to analyze “the emerging landscape of the green sector {of the local economy} in order to support specific high priority segments that have a potential for increased economic impact.” Since, the deadline for submitting proposals is September, the final report should be out in 2009.

LEEDing On The Left Coast
Meanwhile, San Francisco now has one of the most ambitious high performance building laws in the nation. Raising the bar every year, by 2012 most residential and commercial construction will have to meet LEED Gold (or equivalent) standards. Applicants will have to comply with a city-approved checklist, which emphasizes energy efficiency and water conservation. With San Francisco’s goal of cutting its greenhouse gas emissions by 20% in ten years, this law will put the city in the climate combat fast lane. By the summer of 2009 could New York City become a contender for the mantle (or shawl) for having America’s most energy efficient buildings?

Looking at this field of hopeful ideas and fledgling initiatives, I’ve got my fingers crossed. Failure is not an option; by next summer we’ll start to see if we know what we should be doing and how we should be doing it. So too, we’ll start seeing if we can meet the test of mobilizing the agreement and the resources to act. If photos of women in shawls to protect them from icy blasts of summer air conditioning can be excused as just a fashion fad, consider what scientists see in store for New York City. According to the Columbia University climate research center, by 2080 average temperature could soar by eight degrees, rainfall increase by ten percent, and sea-level rise by a swamping 17.7 inches. Summer just won’t be the same, ever.

August 25, 2008

Offputting Offsets

Although the UK's carbon offset market is thriving, a new report sees troubling inconsistencies and pricing failures. Mind the gaps

Big Sun Country

Australia gears up for for the world's biggest thermal solar power. Live large

San Fran Solar

Since one picture is worth a thousand words, check out this San Fransisco solar map. Cool

August 22, 2008

This Old House

Got an 18th Century home in England or something even older in Italy and want to go green? Make history

Such A Bother!

A Texas appeals court dismissed a landowner's lawsuit, which claimed visual and noise pollution, against a nearby wind farm. WSJ

Why Is Gemany Ahead?

The key to Germany's global dominance in clean energy is its feed-in tariff. Learn more

August 21, 2008

Seattle: Think Smaller

Seattle unveils its plan to slash energy demand in five years and shrink utility customers' bills by $310 million. Here's how

Sizing Up Japan's Carbon Footprint

Labels with standardized carbon footprint information will soon appear on Japanese consumer products. Learn more

Venture Power

UK and US venture capital invests in smart electricity grids in the US and Canada that use IT for better reliability and efficiency. Plug in

Shareholders' Climate Impact

CERES, a shareholder-environmental co-ordinator, sees greener corporate policies emerging from climate resolutions. Capital!

Wetter & Drier

Satellite data suggests that IPPC climate change models might lowball both future storm and drought severity. Dip in

Don't Spin Here UPDATE

The Times trashes Mayor Bloomberg's wind power ideas. End of thought BUT Mayor says energy conservation is NYC's key to success. Go to it

August 20, 2008

NRC: Licensing The Future

A Nuclear Regulatory Commission report explores how to license the 'very high temperature gas-cooled reactor'. What's that?

Made Where? Now What?

If products Americans buy come from China and Chinese factories have a bigger carbon footprint than US counterparts, what's a climate conscious consumer to do? Hint: no easy answer

August 19, 2008

LEED 2009

LEED is evolving. Get the summary.Start here

China: Green Money Magnet

Outpacing the UK, China is now the top destination for renewable energy investments. That's attractive

A Bigger Cheney Footprint

F. Chase Hutto, III, a senior aide to Vice President Cheney, is the leading candidate for a top position at the Department of Energy. Oh

Clinton's Keys To Climate Power

Here's Bill Clinton's national climate to-do list. How convenient

UK: Amber Light For Green Towns

British government plans to green-light new eco-towns is both slow and shrinking. Stay tuned

Germans Ride The Rails

German train-ridership is on track to meet new highs in the wake of soaring fuel prices. Get around

Take The Green Train

It's not the A train, but you can take the Swedish EE (energy efficient) train. Sorry Duke

August 18, 2008

Keeping Secrets

The IOC agrees with Chinese authorities and won't disclose air quality monitoring data gathered during the Olympic games. Hush, hush

LEED Challenged

Competition between LEED and Green Globes to be the dominant green building standard heats up. EETV [Subscribers only]

Tainting The Wind

Allegations of local corruption surface in upstate New York wind power projects. Look into it

Not Only Polar Bears

Melting polar ice caps is transforming national interests, not just polar bear habitats. Stay tuned

August 15, 2008

PV: Priming Prime Time

A major California utility is installing 800 MW of photovoltaic power, the biggest solar project in the US. Story 1 & Story 2

August 14, 2008

Benefit Of Carbon Seqestration In Doubt

Researchers claim the energy needed to sequester CO2 emissions from power plants could lead to more pollution problems than the process solves. Look into it

Global Heat Stroke

Dutch scientists report that by 2100, summer temperatures could climb above 100 degrees F in the US mid-west and up to 150 in parts of Australia, India and North Africa. Feel faint?

Once We Know It Could Be Too Late

Damage to the oceans' phytoplankton resulting from climate change is hard to see now, but once detectable it could be irreversible. Dive in

Geothermal Boom Faces Labor Shortages

The lack of skilled labor puts a crimp in the red hot geothermal installation business. Get growing!

August 13, 2008

Mike Plans Ahead

Mayor Bloomberg announces a study to help NYC cope with the risks it faces from climate change. Learn more

Switching to Gas

With 75% of the nation's home heating oil users located in the northeast, the rush is on to convert to natural gas. A multi-year payback for installation costs does not seem to be an obstacle. WSJ

Come Clean

Royal Dutch Shell agrees to pull an ad that touts the sustainability of its oil sands project in Canada. Suds!

August 12, 2008

NY Gets Its RGGI

New York State is ready to roll out the RGGI cap and trade program now that it's got CO2 limits. Let's go

The Oil Drilling Wedge

The WSJ asks readers why has offshore oil drilling become a wedge issue in the 2008 Presidential race. Subscribers comment

Twin Cities Blue-Green Mission

A report by the mayors of Minneapolis and Saint Paul sees growth opportunities in local green manufacturing. Good for jobs good for the environment. Twin-win

August 11, 2008

Saving Puget Sound

Low Impact building design must be used "where feasible" to protect Puget Sound from pollution by order of a Washington state appeals board. Seattle objects. Learn more

Whither London?

London's green movement could wither with its new Mayor. Look into it

Count and Tell

Twenty-one US cities will count and publicize their GHG emissions using standardized measures created by the Carbon Disclosure Project. Rate that

August 10, 2008

Israel: The Cost of Water

Israel worries about the cost of water for increasing food production - and climate change may put drinking water sources at risk. Wade in

August 09, 2008

On The Campaign Trail

Compare and contrast Obama's and McCain's energy policy ideas. Start here

August 08, 2008

Hot and Low Down

NYT City Room Blog

The New York Times takes timely note of those superheated subway platforms that make summer in the city hard to bear.

Steamy Platforms: A Complaint as Old as the Subways
By Jake Mooney

Whether you like summer weather or not, there is something dispiriting about walking down into a subway station on a hot day and, despite a brief respite from the sun, encountering even worse heat than you faced outdoors. It has been a problem for years, more or less for as long as the subways have existed, and for just as long people have been complaining about it.

I am among them: I entered the Lower East Side-Second Avenue station on the F train the other day, after a hot walk from Tompkins Square Park. I was hit squarely in the face with a wall of heat that made me wish I had walked home.

Read more »

Nancy's comment #31

Good article, chronic problem. I propose that subway air conditioners be turned off 20 seconds before trains enter their station stops and turned back on 20 seconds after they depart. In this way, people would stay cool in the cars while saving power.

While we're at it, the TA should install timer-thermostats in all its subways that would crank up the air-conditioning during rush hours, but raise the temperature a few degrees during off-peak periods.

Surely, none of this is rocket science!

add your own comment...

Framing the Debate

Pollsters know that the structure of a question will determine the answer. Here's an energy poll example. It all depends

Getting More Diligent

Due diligence reviews, a staple of real estate transactions for polluted properties, could become a necessary tool for determining a property's carbon footprint. Here's why

Where Did The Bay Go?

Jamaica Bay, a 39 square mile saltwater marsh in NYC, is vanishing before our eyes. Come back!

Risks High, Act Now

A World Bank/UN report finds the societies and economies of East Asian cities face grave climate change impacts and must plan now to protect their populations. Project resilience [4.5MB]

Greening The Tax Code

Experts are starting to look at the federal tax code's potential for fostering climate-smart activity. Many questions, few answers. Climate Wire {Subscribers only]

Standing Room Only

Amtrak's ridership, up 13.9% since last year, is having trouble handling its surging ridership. WSJ

August 07, 2008

The Best Answer In Town

Energy efficiency really is the best and lowest cost way to get energy and climate smart. Graph it

A Taste For Untainted Water

NYC is alarmed about natural gas prospecting near its unfiltered drinking water supply and wants the State to create a mile-wide buffer. Gulp

Speeding Toward CO2 in Delhi

Since 2007, Delhi's CO2 auto emissions have soared 73% and two-wheeled vehicle emissions have shot up by 61%. Hot numbers

Forecast: Hazy

After the Olympic athletes go home, what will happen to air quality in Beijing? Peer in

Tranforming Transportation

The race is on among auto makers to develop hybrid and alternative fuel vehicles. Look ahead

August 06, 2008

Green & Affordable

Energy efficient, affordable housing is catching on around the country, but smart public policy is needed to make this trend the 'new normal'. Details here

Rate That Desktop

If you are thinking about a new desktop computer, here are some green stand-outs. Good to know

Define That Collar

Despite the popularity of the phrase "green-collar jobs", not everyone is talking about the same thing. Says who?

You've Got Options

Homeowners can improve energy efficiency while keeping comfortable. Look into it

August 05, 2008

It's Greener in San Francisco

San Francisco raises the bar on green building laws. Get the news & Read the law

Buidling Blocks for Carbon Neutral Buildings

Combine ambitious energy efficiency goals with standardized, easy to follow rules and America's building stock can become carbon neutral. Start here

Greening The Corporate Supply Chain

Research finds that even climate-aware companies have not adopted climate-smart purchasing practices that include upstream energy efficiencies. Link up

Unconventional Boom

Soaring production of natural gas from unconventional sources in the US has lead industry to demand more land for drilling. Look it up

August 04, 2008

Spanish Forecast: Slower and Warmer

Spain leads the way on climate combat and energy conservation by lowering highway speeds and controlling thermostats in government offices. And that's not all. Forwards!

Northwest Passage De-Iced

The ice-bound Northwest Passage may melt for a second summer in a row. Dive in

Put The Tax On The Table

It's time for both Presidential candidates to talk about a carbon tax. No denying it

A Thought Experiment

Read this love letter to NYC's iconic Chrysler Building. WSJ What would its new owners have to do to make it a green, high performance icon? Contact us and we'll post your comment.

Hush Now

The US Chamber of Commerce wants the NOAA assessment of climate change science to be withdrawn from public circulation. NOAA report [2.8MB] v Chamber of Commerce

August 01, 2008

Eat Or Drive?

The "leaked" World Bank report that links the price of grain with the rise of ethanol is now official. Here's one reader's review. Fine print

Hit The Road

Americans discover buses and leave their cars at home. Get moving

You Can't Ignore Today

Far-sighted energy policies won't succeed if they ignore people's immediate needs argues a TNR columnist. Click on the arrow below

Senate Fails On Renewables

A Senate vote failed to extend the federal tax credit program for renewable power. Plug in

Solar At Night

MIT scientists discover how to store solar power for nighttime use. That's catalytic!

UK: Coal Not Needed

Green groups report that a looming UK energy gap can be filled by renewable energy and reduced demand. Gear up

Mean Streets

Bike riders in Los Angeles find it tough going in the capital of car culture. WSJ

International Influences on City Sustainability Plans

Having spent the past fifteen years involved with United Nations processes and agencies, I sometimes have to wonder whether anything concrete ever comes out of all these meetings, summits and frameworks for action. Of course, little can happen if the government officials attending the meetings don’t take them seriously. And certainly there is much to lament about the ineffectiveness of UN bureaucracies. But I would like to point out several ways that UN activities have – over time – had an influence on local government actions in New York City.

The UN Earth Summit and Agenda 21
I first became aware of the UN’s role in environmental matters when I was working in a New York City law firm and subscribed to the International Environment Reporter. Some of our work involved foreign companies and transactions, so I had to educate myself about environmental laws and issues outside the US. What I became most interested in, however, was planning for the so-called ‘Earth Summit’, the UN Conference on Environment and Development held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992.

The outcomes of the UN’s Earth Summit included international treaties to control climate change and protect the world’s biological diversity, plus a detailed, forty-two chapter plan of action for a global transition to sustainable development in the 21st century called ‘Agenda 21’. The climate change and biodiversity treaties were signed by the first President Bush, and the climate change treaty was later strengthened by international adoption of the Kyoto Protocol – though without the support of the United States.

Meanwhile, only a few people in the US paid attention to Agenda 21, or the concept of sustainable development – with its three interconnected goals of economic development, environmental conservation, and social equity. Although President Clinton established a President’s Council on Sustainable Development in 1993, its members served primarily in a low-priority advisory role, and the administration never fully endorsed sustainable development as a guide for domestic or international action.

ICLEI and Local Agenda 21 Plans
Some countries, notably Sweden, did embrace the challenge of sustainable development and began to apply it both at the national level and in city planning processes. During the 1990s, almost all Swedish cities adopted ‘Local Agenda 21’ plans, and some have recently adopted even more ambitious ‘zero emissions’ policies.

The idea of Local Agenda 21 plans originated with a group called ICLEI, the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives, which was founded in 1990 in partnership with the UN Environment Programme, in preparation for the Earth Summit. The 178 countries attending the Earth Summit endorsed the idea of a Local Agenda 21 program, and more than 800 municipalities have joined it since then. ICLEI has also started a ‘Cities for Climate Protection Campaign’ to involve communities throughout the world in a coordinated effort to quantify and reduce their local greenhouse gas emissions.

UN Commission on Sustainable Development
Back in New York City, the term ‘sustainable development’ was rarely used outside the walls of the UN, even though every year there were meetings of a new Commission on Sustainable Development set up to monitor progress on implementing Agenda 21. I became a regular participant in those meetings, and for several years served as a citizens’ representative on the official US delegation. Vice President Al Gore presided over the first session in 1993, and President Clinton came to the fifth anniversary of the Earth Summit, but still, the idea of sustainable development didn’t seem to gain any traction within the US government, much less the cities and towns around the country.

Mayor Giuliani certainly had little positive interest in the work of the UN, or sustainable development, so throughout the 1990’s there were few possibilities for linking international sustainability concepts with New York City government operations.

ICLEI Greenhouse Gas Inventory
In the spring of 2002, with the new Bloomberg administration in place, I was part of a team from the New York Academy of Sciences’ Environmental Science Section that met with members of the Mayor’s Office of Environmental Coordination and proposed that they should take advantage of an ICLEI program that would help the city conduct a greenhouse gas emissions inventory.

A commitment to the New York City Greenhouse Gas Inventory project was eventually approved, with support from the Mayor’s Office of Environmental Coordination. However, Mayor Bloomberg seemed no more familiar than Mayor Giuliani with the concept of sustainable development, and city officials were reluctant to release the information that had been gathered about greenhouse gas emissions.

The International Olympics Committee and the Mayor’s Task Force on Sustainability
Daniel Doctoroff first began promoting the idea of a New York City Olympics in 1996, long before he became Mayor Bloomberg’s Deputy Mayor for Economic Development. By May 2004, when New York City made the list of five finalists for hosting the 2012 Summer Olympics, he had already put together a NYC 2012 organization to support the bid. One of the potential benefits to New York would be an opportunity to launch some major new economic development projects. The Olympics plan included revival of the East River waterfront, with construction of an Olympic Village across the river from the United Nations and an aquatics center in Brooklyn, and construction of a West Side Stadium, which was meant to lead to comprehensive redevelopment of the Far West Side of Manhattan. Other projects that were listed as part of the bid included a rowing course in Queens, a velodrome in the South Bronx, a marina along the Atlantic shoreline, an equestrian center in Staten Island, and the refurbishment of a historic armory in Harlem.

Amid a flurry of excitement about new stadiums and infrastructure, it emerged that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) had its own version of Agenda 21, and considered sustainability as one of the criteria for its selection of host cities.

Consequently, in November 2004, the NYC2012 committee adopted six Environmental and Sustainability Principles to govern any construction and operations connected with the Olympics, demonstrating their recognition of the IOC’s Agenda 21 goals. The committee projected that the New York Olympics would launch a major environmental transformation of the city – accelerating the expansion of parkland and recreational opportunities, reclaiming brownfields, promoting new green buildings and transportation systems, and revitalizing the waterfront. In addition, New York’s global media would spread the principles of sustainability throughout the world.

In the same month, Mayor Bloomberg formally designated a Mayor's Task Force on Sustainability charged with coordinating and facilitating the incorporation of environmentally sustainable principles into the city government's planning, operations and policymaking.

Ultimately, the defeat of the West Side Stadium proposal undermined New York’s bid for the Olympics, and London won the prize. What happened? Construction of a new Olympic stadium, an essential component of New York’s plan for hosting the games, was rejected by the New York State Public Authorities Control Board, in part because of concerns that it would conflict with investments needed to rebuild the devastated World Trade Center site.

At that point the Mayor’s Task Force on Sustainability could have found itself defeated as well, but by then the idea of a sustainable future for New York had captured the imagination of Mayor Bloomberg. He was transformed into an outspoken and dedicated proponent for sustainable development, and especially for action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

PlaNYC and ICLEI Cities for Climate Protection
On Earth Day 2007, Mayor Bloomberg introduced PlaNYC, an ambitious, multifaceted, 30-year sustainability plan for the city. Also in 2007, the City finally released the results of the greenhouse gas inventory.

After actively embracing the ICLEI Cities for Climate Protection program, in December 2007, Mayor Bloomberg was invited to speak on behalf of ICLEI at the United Nations meeting in Bali that was convened to discuss the post-Kyoto phase of the international climate change treaty. In Bali, the Mayor decried the federal government’s lack of participation in the Kyoto Protocol, and urged delegates to work with cities and local governments as an integral part of the emission reduction process.

Can New York Be a Worldwide Model for Sustainability?
New York City is uniquely influential. Internationally, it is widely viewed as ‘the capital of the world’, in part because it hosts the United Nations. Visiting government ministers and delegations are often inspired by the more attractive aspects of a New York lifestyle. If New York City were to truly embrace sustainable development, it could in fact help spread the principles of sustainability throughout the world – even without the platform of the Olympic Games.

In a number of ways New Yorkers are already models of sustainability – living in smaller spaces than most Americans, and using far less fuel for driving due to an extensive public transportation system and walkable access to neighborhood shops, parks, schools and farmers markets. New York also already has some impressive examples of new green building designs. The biggest challenges will be to reduce energy use in existing buildings, which currently account for almost 80% of New York City’s overall energy consumption, and to introduce new low-emission, alternatives for generating heat and electricity.

The UN expects to finalize the provisions for the next stage of the international climate change treaty by the end of 2009. In the meantime, there will be a new US President in January 2009. Hopefully, there will be a new era of US leadership on international and national action to address climate change and other sustainable development issues. But New York isn’t waiting for the UN or the federal government to move forward.

Mayor Bloomberg and the New York City Council have already taken some very important steps. In May 2008, the City Council established an Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability as a permanent feature of New York City government. The new office is charged with implementing sustainability programs, and ensuring that the goals and initiatives of PlaNYC endure beyond the current administration. How it performs under the next New York Mayor will depend on how clearly voters and other elected officials understand the urgency, the necessity, and the benefits of local and global action to implement sustainability plans. That’s a way we all can have an influence.

Gail Karlsson is an environmental lawyer specializing in international environmental law, energy policy, and sustainable development. She has worked on a number of projects as a consultant to the United Nations Development Programme's Environment & Energy Group, and is the New York City coordinator for the U.S. Citizens Network for Sustainable Development.