City’s Climate Scientists Broaden Research to Include both Neighborhood & Regional Risks

It’s an obvious point, but one worth stressing- climate change will not impact all 8 million-plus New York City residents in the same way. Depending on where exactly you live, your socio-economic status, age and general health, and so many other factors, the impacts of climate change could affect you somewhat differently than even your immediate neighbors.

And New York City doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Our local economy, transportation networks, and coastline and waterways intersect with those across the region. This is also important to consider when preparing for a global phenomenon like climate change.

Think of the flooded New Jersey oil refineries around New York Harbor that caused gas shortages in the days after Sandy.

In light of these enormous complexities, the de Blasio administration says it will be examining the risks posed by climate change using a broader set of measures, including social equity and the vulnerabilities of the entire New York City metro area.

Volunteers help unload food from a truck for distribution to the residents of the Lower East Side who remain without power due to Superstorm Sandy, Friday, Nov. 2, 2012, in New York.  In Manhattan, where 226,000 buildings, homes and business remain without power, Consolidated Edison says they should have service restored by Saturday.  (AP Photo/ John Minchillo)
Volunteers unloading food from a truck for distribution to Lower East Side residents without power due to Superstorm Sandy. (AP Photo/ John Minchillo)

Mayor de Blasio announced the new metrics yesterday at the launch of the third New York City Panel on Climate Change [NPCC], an independent body that advises the City on climate risks and resiliency.

Created during the Bloomberg administration, the Panel’s goal is to ensure that the best available climate science continues to inform the City’s resiliency planning. The NPCC works in partnership with entities such as the Mayor’s Office of Recovery and Resiliency and the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability.

There are currently 19 scientists on the Panel. The NPCC is led by William Solecki, Director of the CUNY Institute for Sustainable Cities, and Cynthia Rosenzweig, Senior Research Scientist at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

The third NPCC will build on previous research, the Mayor’s office said, but will also look at “climate risks through the lens of inequality at a neighborhood scale, as well as focus on ways to enhance coordination of mitigation and resiliency across the entire New York metropolitan region.”

Climate change- at the human scale

New York City’s need to plan for the impacts of climate change at the human scale was raised as an issue before Superstorm Sandy. In its first years, the NPCC’s research helped the Bloomberg administration to ascertain how climate change would impact the critical infrastructure that serves millions of New Yorkers, such as the electrical grid, the subway system, and power and sewage treatment plants.

In the summer of 2012 -weeks before Sandy struck- the New York City Council voted in favor of a bill that enlarged the scope of the NPCC to focus on populations that are especially vulnerable to extreme weather events — such as the elderly, children and the poor. The legislation also made the panel, and a related task force comprised of government agencies, utilities and other private companies, permanent.

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Woman receiving assistance at a New York City emergency shelter during Superstorm Sandy. Photo credit: People’s Daily Online.

“The panel’s work to date has shaped so much of our sustainability and resiliency efforts,” said Mayor de Blasio in a statement yesterday.

The Mayor referenced the City’s push to cut greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050, and the April, 2015 release of One New York: The Plan for a Strong and Just City, which seeks to integrate four massive goals- economic growth, climate resiliency, environmental sustainability, and social equity.

“Now, NPCC3 will build on that strong foundation, ensuring that – as we adapt to climate risks – we are doing so in a way that serves all New Yorkers and reflects the regional collaboration we need,” the Mayor added.

[For a deeper look at how the City is preparing for climate change, take a look at our analysis published in April, together with the Gotham Gazette and AdaptNY.]

A warning to all New Yorkers

The NPCC’s most recent report – Building the Knowledge Base for Climate Resiliency – was released in February 2015.

Crowds wait for free gas November 3, 2012 at the Brooklyn Armory in New York City. With the death toll currently over 90 and millions of homes and businesses without power, the US east coast is attempting to recover from the effects of floods, fires and power outages brought on by Superstorm Sandy.
Waiting for free gas at the Brooklyn Armory days after Superstorm Sandy. Photo credit: Koan Collective

The authors lead off the report with the following statement:

“The climate of the New York metropolitan region is changing—annual temperatures are hotter, heavy downpours are increasingly frequent, and the sea is rising.

These trends, which are also occurring in many parts of the world, are projected to continue and even worsen in the coming decades due to higher concentrations of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere caused by burning of fossil fuels and clearing of forests for agriculture.

These changing climate hazards increase the risks for the people, economy, and infrastructure of New York City. As was demonstrated by Hurricane Sandy, populations living in coastal and low-lying areas, the elderly and very young, and lower-income neighborhoods are highly vulnerable.”

According to the report, area sea levels could increase 11-21 inches by the 2050s, and 18-39 inches by the 2080s. By 2100, they could rise by as much as six feet.

The report suggests that the 12 inches of local sea level rise that have already occurred since 1900 may have expanded Superstorm Sandy’s flood area by approximately 25 square miles.

What are the City’s scientists recommending?

The authors of the 2015 report present a series of recommendations for climate resiliency. You can read through them in the report’s executive summary.

The NPCC states that New York City should both prepare for the inevitable impacts of climate change (adaptation); but it can also take steps to reduce the severity of what is coming (mitigation). Here are just two of the NPCC’s recommendations.

1.) New York City needs “an integrated approach that includes engineering, ecosystems, and social strategies.”

In more straightforward terms, this means that the city will need hard infrastructure (like sea walls) and natural solutions (like healthy wetlands) to protect neighborhoods from dangerous storm surges.

But we will also need strong social networks (possibly supported by well organized and funded neighborhood groups) in order to adequately protect vulnerable residents during extreme weather events.

Such an approach “is vital to ensuring climate resiliency in the coming decades. Land use planning for sustainable infrastructure systems, particularly in coastal zones and low-lying areas, is especially important,” the NPCC adds.

2.) At the same time, New York City should develop and support programs and policies (such as the de Blasio administration’s One City: Built to Last plan) that “work to reduce GHG emissions in order to limit the rate of future climate change and the magnitude of the associated risks.”

New climate risk assessment coming in 2016

A new NPCC report will be released in 2016. The report will tackle additional subject areas, such as:

  • Regional climate projections focusing on extreme events
  • Critical infrastructure systems at the regional level: with a focus on interdependent transportation and energy systems
  • Community-based assessment of adaptation and equity: with a focus on the neighborhood scale
  • How to establish a “New York City climate resiliency indicators and monitoring system”
  • How to develop maps that more effectively show NYC area vulnerabilities and climate resiliency, as well as geographic interdependencies

Who are the scientists carrying out climate research on behalf of New York City?

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The co-chairs of the NYC Panel on Climate Change: William Solecki, Director of the CUNY Institute for Sustainable Cities, and Cynthia Rosenzweig, Senior Research Scientist at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. Photo credit: Roosevelt House, Hunter College

Thirteen members of the NPCC have been re-appointed by the Mayor. 

  • CYNTHIA ROSENZWEIG: Co-Chair, Senior Research Scientist at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies
  • WILLIAM SOLECKI: Co-Chair, Director of the CUNY Institute for Sustainable Cities and Professor of Geography at Hunter College-CUNY
  • REGINALD BLAKE: Member, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Cooperative Remote Sensing Science and Technology Center
  • VIVIEN GORNITZ: Senior Research Scientist, Center for Climate Systems Research, Columbia University and NASA Goddard Institute for Space studies
  • KLAUS JACOB: Special Research Scientist, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory; Adjunct Professor, School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University
  • PATRICK KINNEY: Director, Program on Climate and Health, Mailman School at Columbia University
  • HOWARD KUNREUTHER: James G. Dinan Professor; Professor of Decision Sciences and Business and Public Policy at the Wharton School
  • YOCHANAN KUSHNIR: Director of the Cooperative Institute for Climate Applications and Research (CICAR)
  • ROBIN LEICHENKO: Associate Professor, Department of Geography at Rutgers University
  • NING LIN: NOAA Climate and Global Change post-doctoral fellow
  • GUY NORDENSON: Structural Engineer and Professor of Architecture and Structural Engineering, Princeton University
  • MICHAEL OPPENHEIMER: Albert G. Milbank Professor of Geosciences and International Affairs in the Woodrow Wilson School and the Department of Geosciences at Princeton University
  • GARY YOHE: Woodhouse/Sysco Professor of Economics at Wesleyan University.

The NPCC also has six new members.

  • ALAN F. BLUMBERG: George Meade Bond Professor & Director of the Center for Maritime Systems, Stevens Institute of Technology; Founder of the New York Harbor Observing and Prediction System (NYHOPS)
  • BRIAN A. COLLE: Full Professor in the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences and Faculty Director of the University Scholars Program at Stony Brook
  • SHEILA FOSTER: Vice Dean, Albert A. Walsh Professor of Real Estate, Land Use & Property Law; Co-Director, Stein Center for Law and Ethics, Fordham University
  • DR. JORGE GONZALEZ CRUZ: Professor of Mechanical Engineering, Director, ESES & the Alliance for Continuous Learning Environments for STEM at CUNY
  • DR. IRWIN REDLENER: Professor of Health Policy and Management (The Earth Institute), Columbia University; Special Advisor, NYC OEM
  • RAE ZIMMERMAN: Professor of Planning and Public Administration, NYU’s Wagner Graduate School of Public Service

Enviros to Cuomo: Don’t Raid State’s Climate Fund

This story was updated on March 2nd with additional information about how the Governor is seeking to allocate Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative funds this year.

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New York City, and the rest of the state, is bracing itself for the mounting impacts of climate change. But environmental and clean energy groups are calling foul as Governor Cuomo seeks to divert millions from a “climate abatement” fund, and move those resources into the state’s general pot.

As we reported last week, projections for sea level rise, temperature, and precipitation in New York City through the year 2100 are now available for the first time.

Area sea level could rise 11-21 inches by the 2050s, and 18-39 inches by the 2080s. By 2100, sea level could increase by as much as six feet, according to a report released by the New York City Panel on Climate Change.

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The Rockaways after Superstorm Sandy.

Governor Cuomo has directly linked destructive storms like Sandy to the state’s changing climate. And he has made the expansion of renewable sources of energy, like solar, a priority for his administration.

But, at the same time, the Governor wants to divert $36 million this year from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a “wildly successful” carbon trading program in which New York and eight other states participate. RGGI is designed to cap and reduce power sector CO2 emissions.

The sum that the Governor wants to divert is not insignificant. Last year, New York State received almost $145 million from RGGI’s carbon allowance auctions. That money is supposed to go toward energy efficiency and renewable energy projects across the state. Governor Cuomo is seeking to re-route about one-fourth of that amount this year.

What the Governor is proposing could be seen in two different ways: 1.) re-routing RGGI funds to support other important environmental priorities; or 2.) re-routing RGGI funds to fill budget gaps that the State arguably already has the means to address.

Paying for Carbon Pollution

RGGI includes New York State, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont. It is the “first mandatory, market-based CO2 emissions reduction program in the United States.”

New Jersey was a participant in RGGI but Governor Chris Christie pulled the state out of the program in 2011.

Power plants in RGGI states must pay to emit carbon pollution. They participate in “auctions” in which they purchase “carbon allowances.” The price for these allowances is guided by a cap on how much carbon all RGGI states can collectively emit.

The idea is to keep lowering the cap in order to raise the allowance price- thus incentivizing power plants to switch to less polluting sources of energy.

RGGI has implemented a new carbon emissions cap of 91 million short tons for participating states. That cap is supposed to decline 2.5 percent each year from 2015 to 2020.

Does RGGI Work?

Supporters say RGGI is a national model for reducing carbon emissions and accelerating the use of renewable sources of energy.

Climate pollutant emissions from power plants across the region have dropped by more than 40-percent since RGGI was initiated in 2005, a coalition of 26 environmental and clean energy groups wrote in a February 10th letter to Governor Cuomo.

The program has raised almost $2 billion from auction proceeds across the nine participating states since 2008. RGGI has “defied critics by proving that reducing climate-altering pollution in a way that raises funds for clean energy is a true win-win,” says Albany watchdog group Environmental Advocates.

New York, as the largest state in the coalition, and the one with the most pollution emitted, received a little more than one-third of all RGGI proceeds in 2014. The funds are managed by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.

Since its inception, RGGI has raised more than $728 million for clean power, energy efficiency, technology innovation and green workforce development projects across New York State, says Environmental Advocates. Projects have been initiated in every county in the state.

Buildings = Carbon Pollution

A major portion of RGGI funds have been directed toward making the state’s residential building stock more energy efficient. New York’s buildings -residential, commercial and industrial- are the state’s second leading emitter of greenhouse gases, surpassed only by the transportation sector.

In New York City, buildings are the number one source of carbon pollution.

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The buildings of Manhattan.

RGGI has paid for over 30,000 free or reduced-cost energy audits for New York State homeowners. It also helps to fund low-cost energy efficiency retrofits for single and multi-family buildings.

What’s the Danger in Redirecting RGGI Funds?

As part of this year’s budget negotiations, the Governor wants to redirect $23 million in RGGI proceeds towards the state’s General Fund, Travis Proulx, Environmental Advocates’ communications director told us.

Those proceeds would help to offset “various energy related tax credits.” The Governor’s plan sets a bad precedent, say environmental groups. Funds that are supposed to be dedicated for renewable energy and energy efficiency projects should not be free for the taking, they argue.

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Governor Andrew Cuomo.

“This diversion could threaten the integrity of RGGI in New York and cause a ripple effect throughout the region if other states also choose to shift carbon allowance revenues away from their intended use,” said the environmental and clean energy groups in their letter to the Governor.

Environmental Funds Up for Grabs

The Governor’s re-direction of RGGI dollars could also undermine another important source of funding for environmental projects.

Cuomo wants to use an additional $10 million in RGGI proceeds, Proulx said, to make an increase to the state’s Environmental Protection Fund. The problem with that idea is that the EPF already has a dedicated funding source but, that too, has been systematically raided for the General Fund.

The EPF is supposed to be replenished by proceeds from the Real Estate Transfer Tax, along with other state revenue streams, like the Bottle Bill.

[Another $2 to $3 million in RGGI proceeds will go to the EPF, said Proulx. Not as an increase but to “continue to account for the underuse of the Real Estate Transfer Tax in meeting expected funding of the program.”]

Since the establishment of the Environmental Protection Fund in 1993, $2.1 billion has been disbursed toward environmental projects across New York State. But another $928 million has been “swept” from the EPF to the state’s General Fund for budget relief.

Environmental groups across the state have been pushing the Governor to bring the Fund back to pre-recession levels. Raiding one dedicated environmental fund to partially replenish another raided fund, is not a responsible approach, they say.

“The EPF is a proven job generator which has created parkland, protected farmland, and supported local recycling programs – it deserves an increase that doesn’t pit environmental programs against each other,” the groups, such as the NY Public Interest Research Group and the Natural Resources Defense Council, wrote in their letter to the Governor.

“We urge the Senate and Assembly to support an increase to the EPF that doesn’t come at the expense of RGGI,” they concluded.

What’s Next?

We’ve reached out to Assemblymember Steve Englebright, the new chair of the State Assembly’s Environmental Conservation committee, to see what he thinks of the Governor’s budget proposal. Englebright, a Democrat from Long Island, is a supporter of a major wind energy project off the Long Island coast.

We’ll keep you posted about Englebright’s response, and how the state budget negotiations are shaping up.

But the bigger question is how best to prepare New York State for climate change head-on. State and local governments, like the de Blasio administration, are focused on both reducing carbon emissions, and determining how to most effectively protect residents and critical infrastructure.

“RGGI has proven that the state can take aggressive action on climate while stimulating economic growth. As proud as we are of this program, it is only a piece of the pie and not a substitute for a clear and comprehensive climate action plan,” said Conor Bambrick, Environmental Advocates’ Air and Energy director, last December.

“Governor Cuomo should deliver the framework of a real climate action plan – which includes but is not limited to expanding RGGI,” Bambrick concluded.

 

 

New Climate Report Underscores Need for Immediate Action in New York City

Key Points:

  • A new report released by the New York City Panel on Climate Change details projections in sea level rise, temperature, and precipitation through the year 2100.
  • Sea level rise is happening, and is expected to accelerate over the next century.
  • New York City weather will become hotter and more extreme, with more heat waves and intense precipitation events.
  • These changes will have profound and dangerous impacts on New York City’s people, infrastructure, economy, and natural environment.

 


The data keeps piling up: climate change presents a clear and growing threat to New York City, and now is the time for action.

A new report released today, Building the Knowledge Base for Climate Resiliency, details for the first time projections in sea level rise, temperature, and precipitation for New York City through the year 2100.

Overall, the news is grim: according to the report’s authors, annual temperatures are hot and getting hotter, extreme precipitation events are increasing in frequency, and the sea is rising faster than expected.

The report was produced by the New York City Panel on Climate Change, an independent body of academic and private sector experts that advises the city on climate risks and resiliency. The NPCC was convened by Mayor Michael Bloomberg in August 2008 as part of PlaNYC. This is their third report since that time and presents work from January 2013 to January 2015.

Sea Levels Are Rising, and Fast

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Transportation infrastructure in New York City is especially vulnerable to sea level rise. Photo credit: MTA via Creative Commons.

Some of the most startling findings from today’s report revolve around sea level rise projections. Since 1900, New York City has seen sea levels rise around 12 inches—that’s nearly twice the observed global rate over a similar time period.

But it’s not going to stop there: this trend is expected to continue, and even accelerate, as the century progresses. According to the report, sea level could rise 11-21 inches by the 2050s, and 18-39 inches by the 2080s. By 2100, it could reach as high as six feet.

Low-lying and coastal areas of New York City will certainly feel the brunt of this inundation—and many have already begun to experience the impacts. The report suggests that just the current 12 inches of sea level rise may have expanded Hurricane Sandy’s flood area by approximately 25 square miles.

Of all the boroughs, Queens has the most land area at risk of future coastal flooding due to sea level rise, followed by Brooklyn, Staten Island, the Bronx, and Manhattan.

More Storms, More Problems

While continued sea level rise is all but certain, the specific frequency of future storms like hurricanes and nor’easters has proven harder to predict. However, the report’s authors note that it is “more likely than not” that there will be more intense storms, and they will bring extreme winds and intense precipitation.

Coupled with already high sea levels, these storms could cause serious flooding in parts of the City that are already struggling to cope with climate impacts. The report states that “under the high sea level rise estimate for the 2080s, the current 100-year flood (a flood with a 1 percent annual chance of occurrence) is projected to become an approximately once-in-eight year event.”

These changes are reflected most strikingly in the FEMA Flood Insurance Rate Maps. Residents across New York are already seeing the impacts of these maps being updated; if sea level rise continues unabated, by 2100, the area covered by 100-year flood zone will potentially double.

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To the Extreme

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New York City could see six dangerous heat waves per year by 2100. Photo credit: Chris Goldberg via Creative Commons.

It’s going to get hotter in New York City—but it’s also going to get wetter and more extreme.

Since 1900, temperatures measured in Central Park have risen 3.4°F, mirroring an increase that’s been seen throughout the entire Northeast, in both rural and urban areas.

By the 2050s, the NPCC suggests that annual temperatures could increase by 4.1 to 5.7°F. By 2080, it could be closer to 8.8°F.

That may not seem like much, especially as we shiver through a snowy February. But keep in mind that these increases will occur in all months of the year. To put things in perspective, the NPCC offers this: “By the 2080s, New York City’s mean temperatures … may bear similarities to those of a city like Norfolk, Virginia, today.”

We can expect to see more days above 90°F, more days above 100°F, and more heat waves (three or more consecutive days above 90°F), too. The NPCC report suggests that by 2080, the number of heat waves could triple—up to six per year.

But the extremes won’t be limited to temperature. Since 1900, annual precipitation has increased a total of 8 inches (about 0.8 inches a decade); the report suggests this increase is likely to continue, but will probably come in the form of short, intense bursts—perfect for flash floods and combined sewage overflows.

The Time for Action is Now

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NYC °CoolRoofs promotes the cooling of New York City’s rooftops. Applying a reflective surface to a roof helps reduce cooling costs, cut energy usage and lower greenhouse gas emissions. Photo credit: NYC °CoolRoofs

While it is difficult to project individual weather events with any kind of certainty, the NPCC’s report is clear that climate change is a serious and imminent threat to New York City’s people, economy, infrastructure, and natural environment.

And while the City is taking dramatic steps to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, it must also act now to protect against sea level rise, coastal flooding, and warming temperatures that are now inevitable.

“NPCC’s findings underscore the urgency of not only mitigating our contributions to climate change, but adapting our city to its risks,” said Mayor de Blasio. “The task at hand is daunting— and that is why we’re making an unprecedented commitment, with a sweeping plan to reduce emissions 80 percent by 2050, and a comprehensive, multi-layered resiliency plan that is already making neighborhoods safer.”

The City is also making progress on a number of key projects, including:

  • The launch of scoping and preliminary design work on the Lower East Side to implement a $335 million integrated, neighborhood-sensitive flood protection system to mitigate risk and help connect the community with the waterfront.
  • The Office of Recovery and Resiliency (ORR), partnering with the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC), has launched the first-ever, comprehensive regional resiliency analysis of New York City’s food supply chain network.
  • To combat the urban heat island effect, as of the end of 2014, NYC Cool Roofs has coated over six million square feet of building roofs with reflective paint to address the climate change risks associated with urban heat. The City’s recent green buildings plan commits to coating at least one million square feet a year more to continue mitigating the urban heat island effect and provide energy savings in affordable housing, public buildings, and non-profit organizations.
  • ORR and NYCEDC have also launched an approximately $100 million shoreline investment program to protect the most vulnerable waterfront communities, including Coney Island Creek and Staten Island’s South Shore, and other low-lying parts of the city that will be evaluated as part of the first phase of work.

Future efforts include upgrading flood protection systems and coastal protection in at-risk areas, preparing NYCHA for heavy flooding, investments in the Staten Island Bluebelt and other storm water infrastructure, and the construction of levees in Midland Beach and on Staten Island’s East Shore.

Many other sustainability plans are outlined in PlaNYC; the mayor’s office will release a progress report for those initiatives in April 2015.