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New York City (NYC)
Climate Change


Climate change poses a serious threat to our planet. NYC realizes the importance of addressing this threat. As a part of PlaNYC 2030, the City has set a goal of reducing its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 30 percent. While such reduction will ease the impact on the environment, it's important to realize that climate change is taking place regardless of the city's ability to reduce emissions. Some effects of climate change - hotter temperatures, increased precipitation, rising sea levels and extreme weather events (heat waves, blizzards, rainstorms, storm surges) - can be only marginally softened by reducing GHG emissions. However, mankind has no control over such events. Realizing that, the city incorporated into its long term strategy adaptation to climate change and increase of the infrastructure resilience to climate change. Such strategy will ensure the city's long-term economic prosperity and encourage public and private investments in the city's infrastructure; it will also support green jobs and improve the quality of life of New Yorkers.

Reduction of GHG emissions still remains one of the top priorities among NYC's climate change initiatives. Because such reduction can mitigate the severity of climate change, NYC remains on track of its goal to cut GHG emissions by 30 percent by 2030. Citywide carbon emissions already decreased 3.5 percent in 2008 compared to 2007; and since 2005 they have declined 9 percent, falling from 58.6 to 53.3 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent. Adjusted for weather - the key driver in annual variations - the total decline was 4.4 percent. Several factors contributed to this progress: milder weather, efficient in-city electricity generation, increased importation of cleaner electricity, decrease in total per capita energy consumption and decreased sulfur hexafluoride emissions. The most significant factor of all is perhaps that the total per capita energy consumption declined for the first time in years.

In October 2007, Mayor Bloomberg signed Executive Order 109, which mandates even more aggressive GHG reductions for municipal facilities - they are set to achieve a 30 percent reduction by year 2017.

However, the City must not only reduce its carbon emissions, but increase its climate resilience - the ability to endure changes in climate, including accelerating severe weather events. The city outlined a three stage approach to building NYC's climate resilience. The first stage is to gain an understanding of how a climate change can affect the city. The second stage is technical assessment of the impact the climate change will have on critical infrastructure. This assessment will identify what individual entities can do to increase their climate resilience and what areas span beyond their reach.

To have a better understanding of upcoming climate changes, the city developed its first official NYC-specific climate change projections. The projections were made by the NYC Panel on Climate Change (NPCC), comprised by leading experts in climate science, social sciences, economics, risk management and law. The NPCC projected that by the end of the century NYC's mean annual temperatures will increase by 4 to 7.5 degrees Fahrenheit, annual precipitation will increase by five to ten percent and sea levels will rise by 12 to 23 inches. However, recent evidence, including accelerated ice melt in Greenland and Antarctica, suggests that sea levels could rise at a faster than projected rate, potentially by 41 to 55 inches by the end of the century. This rapid ice melt scenario was included in NPCC's projections given the dramatic impact it would have on the city should it occur. The NPCC also projected that extreme weather events such as heat waves, short intense rainfalls, droughts, and coastal flooding are likely to intensify and happen more frequently.

In 2008, the city launched the NYC Climate Change Adaptation Task Force. Its goal was to conduct technical assessment of the impacts of climate change on city's critical infrastructure. The Task Force identified over 100 types of infrastructure that could be impacted by climate change and developed a coordinated action plan to address those impacts. The city already takes steps to prepare its critical infrastructure for upcoming challenges. The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is raising critical equipment at its Rockaway water pollution control plant from the basement to elevations above projected flood levels. This measure will ensure that the plant can remain operational or quickly recover in a flood event. DEP also installed movable flood gates on its Tallman Island facility in Queens to prevent flooding from intense rainfalls.

The impact of climate change will stretch far beyond the critical infrastructure. To better manage the risks associated with coastal flooding and rising sea levels, NYC has acquired high resolution Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) data for the City. This information will be used for new Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) flood maps for NYC. These maps will be more accurate than the existing ones and will take into account recent sea level rise.

Climate risk is a challenge that NYC already faces, and current practices and experiences will pave the way on how to deal with future climate changes. Already NYC experiences heat waves that cause health problems; snowstorms that cause power failures and disrupt traffic, nor'easters that cause flooding. While the city can and should protect itself against some of these risks, it's not feasible or even possible to protect the infrastructure from all the climate risks it faces. What's critical is the ability to prepare, operate during and respond to climate events in ways that minimize damage and disruption. NYC's goal is not to create a "climate proof" city, but to enhance its resilience to current and short-term risks, while incorporating the best science available to minimize long-term climate risks.