Though it seems like they just sit there, buildings are a huge contributor to climate change. They require heat and electricity, and the fossil fuels that drive them. And the more buildings, the worse the problem: In New York City, buildings are the single largest source of green house gas emissions, making 42 percent of the city’s total output. Which is why Mayor Bill de Blasio has set a mandate to do something about it.
De Blasio's mandate sets a fossil fuel cap for all buildings over 25,000 square feet over the next 12 to 17 years. Owners of such buildings are required to upgrade their buildings to be more green, with serious penalties for failure to comply. For most owners, this will mean improving inefficient hot water heaters, roofs and windows, boilers and heat distribution systems. For the worst-performing 14,500 buildings, which currently produce about one-quarter of the City’s total greenhouse gas emissions, however, the rules will require efficiency upgrades and fossil fuel equipment replacement.
The mandate makes New York the first city to put a cap on greenhouse gas emissions for buildings, and is part of an ongoing effort set forth by de Blasio to reduce total citywide emissions by 80 percent by 2050, an action he took when President Trump withdrew from the Paris Climate Agreement.
"Time is not on our side," de Blasio said when he announced the mandate. "New York will continue to step up and make critical changes to help protect our city and prevent the worst effects of climate change. We must shed our buildings’ reliance on fossil fuels here and now. To do this, we are mandating upgrades to increase the energy efficiency of our buildings, helping us continue to honor the goals of the Paris Agreement. No matter what happens in Washington, we will not shirk our responsibility to act on climate in our own backyard."
More than just the environment will benefit from the mandate. Fossil fuels pollute the air, and in condensed areas, that cause some serious health problems. Bronchitis, asthma and premature death, especially among seniors and children, have been tied to air pollution. The mandate will improve air quality enough to prevent 40 premature deaths and 100 emergency room visits annually by 2035.
The new regulations will also save – and create – money for New York residents. New energy efficiencies could save residents up to $300 million in energy bills annually, and the mandate will create 17,000 green building retrofitting jobs. Building tenants will enjoy more comfortable and consistent indoors temperatures, as well.
On a national and even global level however, de Blasio's program could serve as a example and a roadmap for other major cities to enact similar mandates, ultimately contributing to the reversal of climate change we're fighting to achieve.