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As The World Burns, New York City Council Takes Steps To Cut Carbon Emissions

Dashed Arrow Stefan Georgi/Flickr

I have good news and bad news, mostly bad so let's get that out of the way first. On Wednesday, climate scientists convened at the 24th annual U.N. Climate Change Conference in Poland announced that 2018 will mark the highest level of carbon dioxide emissions ever, despite recent reports that we must collectively clean up our act or face certain doom.

"We are in deep trouble," United Nations Secretary General António Guterres kicked off the conference, according to the Washington Post. "It is hard to overstate the urgency of our situation. Even as we witness devastating climate impacts causing havoc across the world, we are still not doing enough, nor moving fast enough, to prevent irreversible and catastrophic climate disruption."

The Post reports that two years of stagnant emissions, from 2014 to 2016, gave climate scientists cause for cautious optimism, but no longer: Global emissions crept up 1.6 percent in 2017, and are expected to weigh in at a 2.7 percent increase by the time we close 2018. Although U.S. leaders have more or less buried their heads in the sand, with President D.J. Trump disavowing the Paris Climate Agreement while simultaneously promising to resurrect an environmentally damaging industry (coal) that can't realistically be resurrected, this country does not top the list of countries doing the worst. Emissions in China and India have expanded 5 and 6 percent respectively, while U.S. emissions increased 2.5 percent.

For reference, though, the EU reduced its emissions by 1 percent, suggesting that where there's a will, there's a way.

Which brings us to the good news: New York City may soon take meaningful action to drastically limit energy use by large and mid-size buildings. A bill sponsored by 25 City Council members, including Speaker Corey Johnson, would set up an Office of Building Energy Performance to ensure building owners stick to the prescribed limits on greenhouse gas emissions. It would also establish a mandatory reporting protocol to allow the city to keep tabs on owners' progress, thereby obligating them to actually put energy efficiency upgrades in place.

The legislation, which Councilmember Costa Constantinides introduced in late November, is basically an update on previous attempts the council has made to make Mayor Bill de Blasio's building emissions mandate more plausible. In 2017, de Blasio committed to making large buildings energy efficient by 2030, without laying out a framework for accomplishing this feat. Constantinides's bill would apply to all buildings 25,000 square feet and up, and as the National Resource Defense Council points out, it's not perfect—a better version of the bill would extend the command to rent-regulated housing, something this one doesn't do—but it's a good step. It also comes alongside legislation that would help building owners afford the required updates.

And you know what? I'm not feeling up to complaining about shortcomings in light of today's climate assessment. As CityLab reports, heating buildings accounts for 42 percent of our city's carbon dioxide emissions. With the entire world about to be engulfed in flames, I will accept any concrete steps toward bringing that number down. Relatedly, please immerse yourself in this comprehensive explainer on that Green New Deal you've heard so much about.

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