Seven years and about 3 months — that’s how much time Earthlings have left to drop net-carbon emissions below zero and limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Lose the race, and deadly heat waves and sea level rises increase dramatically, according to a recent U.N. report on climate change.
In the New York City, working to help stop that timer encompasses a vast reimagining of life – from the sea walls rising off the shores of Coney Island to fossil fuel divestments made by the $262 billion municipal retirement fund. City comptroller Brad Lander oversees the financial management of these projects, and in an attempt to centralize its updates and keep New Yorkers informed, his office has now unveiled the NYC Climate Dashboard.
This oversight tool will allow residents and decision makers to track the city’s progress on energy efficiency, carbon emissions and resiliency projects. The dashboard will also include maps for gauging heat waves and storm flooding risks.
“A lot of this is really kind of crystallized how much more we have to go,” said Louise Yeung, the first official to hold the position of climate officer at the city’s comptroller, “and then collectively across all the different parts of the city — from the park department to the department of environmental protection and the mayor’s office and our own office — where we need to push those levers to make progress.”
City power is only 3% renewable
By law, New York City must run on at least 70% renewable energy by 2030. Based on the dashboard’s pie chart of power usage mix, the city is only at 23% zero-emission sources, most of which is nuclear. Only 6% of this zero-emission energy comes hydrothermal, solar, wind and other renewables. The largest slice of the city’s energy consumption — at more than 75% — is still oil, natural gas and other fossil fuels.
Yeung said this number is actually much worse because the closing of the Indian Point Nuclear Power in April 2021 was not factored into this data. At the time, energy experts predicted a rise in demand for gas-fired power until more renewable sources come online.
The dashboard shows the city’s updates on its timeline for installing 1,000 megawatts of solar by 2030. With 8 years left to meet this goal, less than 30% of the work is done. To stay on target, 78 megawatts of solar power will have to be installed every year until then..
But a lot of projects are in the works to boost this number, such as Champlain Hudson Power Express, which promises to deliver at least one-third of New York City’s power needs from renewable sources generated upstate and Canada. The Hochul administration approved final contracts for the Champlain Hudson Power Express last week, which aims to deliver a third of the city’s power needs.
Transportation is trucking along, but buildings seem stuck
Buildings are the city’s greatest source of emissions, accounting for approximately two-thirds of greenhouse gas pollutants. Local Law 97, passed in 2019, requires buildings over 25,000 square feet to adhere to more rigid energy efficiency standards and emissions caps by 2024. More stringent restrictions kick in by 2030, and more than 20,000 buildings across the five boroughs fall under Local Law 97.
Charts on the comptroller’s climate dashboard show emissions from the different sectors of buildings, along with the sources. The biggest load of pollution comes residential natural gas used for heat, hot water and cooking. It alone results in nearly 10 million metric tons of carbon dioxide. A distant second place in emissions is commercial and institutional use of natural gas and electricity, which make up over 6 million metric tons each.
Based on the dashboard, all types of buildings are falling behind in meeting climate goals of reducing emissions from natural gas. In apartment buildings, carbon dioxide release increased by 10% from 2005 to 2020 instead of decreasing toward the goal of cutting 40% by 2030. Commercial buildings have nearly doubled their carbon emissions, while construction and manufacturing facilities have risen more than half – a clear indication of the region’s reliance on natural gas.
Dashboard users can click on a map of the five boroughs and view individual buildings that fall under Local Law 97, also known as the Climate Mobilization Act. They can see information about specific structures such as building types, emissions and efficiency scores. More than 40% of the dots on the map are currently red, indicating that the largest group of buildings are ones failing at meeting standards to mitigate climate change.
The transportation sector is the second largest source of emissions. Everything from trucking to aviation vehicles have reduced their pollution since 2005, except for two kinds of transport: marine and solid waste.
Green alternatives are tracked too. People can check updates on bike parking and lanes as well as statistics on electric cars and expansion of charging stations.
A neighborhood tracker for rain, heat waves and resiliency
Whether it’s rain, storms or heat waves, the five boroughs are getting hit hard by extreme weather as the years go by, and it’s projected to only get much worse. The dashboard offers key insights with a multilayered map on flood risk. Clicking on the Coney Island area, one can see a comparison of the current risk and how much further it will extend by the end of the century – a good way to check if a prospective business or home will suffer flooding in the years to come.
Currently 2.5 million New Yorkers live in today’s flood plains, but that number will grow as coastal waters reach more inland. Add sea level rise to the comparison, and much of the city’s 520 miles of waterfront is in jeopardy.
On the same map, dashboard users can also see where all the action is happening for coastal resiliency and storm preparedness projects. By clicking on the orange parcels, information for each project pops up such as scope, financial commitment, managing agency, start dates and end dates.
Different tabs under the resiliency heading show the dangers from acute forms of weather, such as heat risk and flash flooding.
Color-coded heat threats can be compared across districts, with vegetation cover and the locations of cooling sites. Sewer overflow and green infrastructure can be seen with corresponding flooding scenarios.
The dashboard also conveys the city’s investments in green infrastructure versus its divestments in carbon-producing businesses.
The New York City Comptroller’s Office manages the pension funds of municipal workers, and its goal is to divest completely from fossil fuels while investing $50 billion into climate solutions by 2030.
Thus far, only about 14% of the retirement fund is invested in the green sector, but it only has $1 billion left to go before 100% divestment.
“Honestly, overall, we need to make a lot more ambitious action, very fast,” Yeung said. “So we hope it's very useful to a range of people from climate advocates to decision makers in the city and private sector, as well as the general public.