Meeting NYC's legal mandate to cut its carbon footprint 80% by 2050 is a tall — and essential — order. While 2050 gets closer every day, the full suite of detailed policies, laws, regulations and market transformations needed to meet the 80x50 remain substantially incomplete. It's been a decade since the release of Mayor Bloomberg's Greener Greater Building Plan and the phased-in ban on burning heavy fuel oil for heating buildings has likely been the most effective carbon cutting tool to date, but that still leaves much to do that will entail complex political and technical effort.
I've written before about City Council bills that would require existing buildings to renovate and retrofit buildings to achieve levels of energy efficiency that 80x50 demands. As of this writing, another version of the bill, now designated Intro 1253, had lengthy hearings in December 2018 before the Committee on Environmental Protection, but how the many challenging technical, financial and residential tenant protection issues will be resolved is unknown. What is known is that retrofit decisions and deadlines, as well as the basic metrics for measuring building energy and carbon outputs have no off-the-shelf answers. They have to be discovered or invented and their specifics hammered out — or not. All that can be said with confidence is that the City will not meet its 80x50 goals unless the energy appetite of its built environment changes in big ways and this means both more efficient uses of fuel and electricity along with a shift to fuel and electricity sources that are zero, net-zero or ultra-low carbon.
The Extinction Rebellion is right! The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 1.5°C report is right! Human civilization will be unalterably diminished or even wiped out by climate change, not this year, but if current practice continues, during this century. What is to be done?
The solution is blindingly obvious and known to all: stop using fossil fuels. Other steps may help, like constraining biological methane emissions or moving towards permaculture (agriculture that embeds carbon in the soil) or removing CO2 from the air, but those steps are add-ons. They will only help if we stop extracting and burning fossil fuels, and the IPCC's best estimate is that we must do that, globally, by 2045 to 2055 if we are to have a reasonable chance of holding the increase in global temperature to 1.5°C. (We used to talk about 2°C, but it has become clear that the near-term impact on low-lying real estate, like in Bangladesh, Brooklyn, and Mar-a-Lago, will be too much too soon in this more relaxed 2°C case.) I'll stop now, but you can look all this up on the IPCC's web site.
Nancy Anderson, the Executive Director of the Sallan Foundation, was honored to receive recognition for outstanding accomplishments in the field of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) in the real estate and construction sector by City & State.