CIVIC CENTER — The city plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by retrofitting more than 3,000 publicly-owned buildings and spurring private landlords to follow suit under an ambitious proposal unveiled before this week's United Nations Climate Summit.
Almost three quarters of the city's greenhouse gas emissions are produced from powering, heating and cooling of buildings. Under a new proposal, public and private buildings will be retrofitted to dramatically reduce the city's greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent of 2005 levels by 2050, said Mayor Bill de Blasio.
"This is a matter of survival," said de Blasio, speaking at an impromptu press conference after Sunday's People's Climate Change March in which he participated.
"My hope is that New York City's example will resonate and build real momentum, that this week in New York City will be seen as a turning point moment where momentum was built internationally and that New York City helped in a major way to create that momentum."
De Blasio, who will speak Tuesday at the UN Climate Summit, said the policy shift in his plan, titled "One City, Built to Last: Transforming New York City's Buildings for a Low-Carbon Future," would make New York the largest city in the world to adopt the 80 percent greenhouse gas reduction by 2050 standard which has been put forth by the United Nations.
In order to meet the 2050 goals, the city will have to achieve a 30 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 2005 levels over the next decade. The city will seek to surpass that goal over the next decade by achieving a 35 percent reduction.
Under the proposal, 3.4 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year should be eliminated by 2025 — the equivalent of taking 715,000 vehicles off the road.
The changes will also generate energy costs savings of $1.4 billion per year by 2025 and hopefully have a significant impact on low income New Yorkers who tend to live in older, less energy efficient buildings, the city says.
Under the plan, the city will induce private landlords to also retrofit their buildings by giving incentives to those who make voluntary changes and forcing the less reluctant ones to meet certain standards if minimum changes are not met.
De Blasio's announcement comes after the city council passed a package of environmental legislation Friday, sponsored by Queens Councilman Costa Constantinides.
Constantinides said the legislation provides "sustainable solutions so that we remain resilient in the face of climate change."
In order to meet its goals, the city plans to expand the use of solar rooftop panels, switch to new clean energy technology, improve energy efficiency in public housing buildings and provide financing help for clean energy improvements by doing things such as adjusting its housing tax credit program. Energy code standards and enforcement will also be upgraded.
The plan will not be cheap, officials said. It will cost $1 billion over 10 years from the city's existing 10-year capital plan to retrofit every city-owned building by 2025.
The damage wrought by Hurricane Sandy moved the issue of climate change from the abstract to reality, said the mayor.
"People understood intellectually before Sandy the threat we faced. I think for New Yorkers, Sandy made it personal, made it immediate, added a sense of reality to this dynamic," said de Blasio, who added that there are future storms that could be "much worse."
That's why de Blasio said the city will be strict with private landlords to make sure the goals are implemented promptly. The city hopes to speed the energy efficient retrofitting of 20,000 privately owned buildings through an accelerated program.
"I've said very clearly I think the private sector is ready and willing. I think they realize it's in all of our interests, it's a matter of survival," said de Blasio. "We'll work with them, we'll incentivize, we'll support. If that is not moving fast enough we will move to mandates because we have to get there."
The plan drew wide support from environmental groups such as the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Environmental Defense Fund and the NYC Environmental Justice Alliance.
The Real Estate Board of New York also endorsed the plan.
“Increasing energy efficiency and reducing greenhouse gas emissions will help solidify New York’s standing as the world’s model of sustainability,” chair Rob Speyer said in a statement.
“Mayor de Blasio should be commended for his leadership, making New York the largest city to ever make this ambitious commitment, hopefully leading the way for other cities around the world to follow.”
Cecil Corbin-Mark, deputy director for WE ACT For Environmental Justice, said he wanted a few more details on how the city plans to induce private landlords to comply but called the plan "bold and ambitious" and praised the effort to focus on city-owned buildings such as schools and public housing as a way to make sure low-income New Yorkers feel the benefits of the plan.
Corbin-Mark said the plan would have other positive effects such as improving health.
"For a mom living with a child with asthma in a building that burns the dirtiest fuel, changing the energy plant will reduce the negative effects of asthma," he said.
De Blasio said there's no time to lose.
"We've lost a lot of ground, a lot of damage has been done, but it's not too late," he said.
"We have to approach this urgently. What would make it too late is if we continued on our current path, which is a path of madness. Only by constantly ratcheting up our standards and demanding more of ourselves and making more radical changes in terms of climate are we going to save the day."