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Together, New Yorkers Are Leading On Climate Change

By: Jeffrey Gracer & Amy Turner

September 04, 2018

These are discouraging times for those of us who used to expect that our federal government would exercise climate leadership. It's been a chronicle of attempted destruction from Washington, kicked off by President Trump's deeply divisive June 2017 announcement of his plans to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement and continuing in August 2018 with the proposal of Trump administration "replacements" for Obama-era fuel economy standards and the Clean Power Plan. If these most recent regulatory announcements survive court challenges, they would set back efforts to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and other pollutants from the transportation and power sectors. With this administration, we've seen funding cut for critical climate science programs, references to "climate change" deleted from federal agency websites, and cabinet-level denials of the basic science around our changing climate and extreme weather events.

Despite the torrent of negative headlines from Washington, the news isn't all bad. While we remain disheartened by the attempt to hobble federal climate policy, we are exhilarated by all of those who have stepped up at the state and local level to fill the gap in climate leadership. It's a deep bench. Here in New York City, we've seen businesses, schools, NGOs, hospitals, real estate developers and individual New Yorkers across professions, boroughs and demographics look for ways to support New York City's efforts to reduce its contribution to greenhouse gas emissions. These efforts by New Yorkers build on the City's commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050 (commonly known as "80x50"), with ambitious interim targets, and to do its part to honor commitments made by the U.S. under the Paris Climate Agreement.

The efforts of New Yorkers — institutional and individual — are critical to achieving 80x50 here, at the urban scale. While the City has considerable options for regulating or incentivizing greenhouse gas emissions reductions from the real estate, transportation, waste and energy sectors, our municipal government will not be able to achieve sufficient reductions on its own. Across the City, we've seen landlords and tenants working together to improve the energy efficiency of their spaces. We've seen nonprofit groups pull together broad coalitions to help solve seemingly intractable challenges in achieving the scale of emissions reductions required to stave off the worst effects of climate change. We've seen rooftop solar networks sprout up in several New York City neighborhoods and we've seen households in all five boroughs begin putting their food waste out for City organics collection. The list goes on.

Last year, we established the NYC Climate Action Alliance to help connect New Yorkers engaged in the climate fight and to amplify their efforts. Our work is aimed squarely at helping New Yorkers who embrace the City's 80x50 goals adopt and scale up proven, cost-effective climate solutions in their homes, schools, workplaces and beyond by sharing best practices and lessons learned with their allies in reducing New York City's carbon footprint. We act as a neutral forum for convening stakeholders to discuss climate issues and encourage innovation from the corporate, non-profit, financial, legal, governmental, real estate, transportation, engineering, educational and environmental sectors in New York City. We provide legal and operational support to tackle climate challenges, and we engage in programming and messaging aimed at emboldening New Yorkers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and encourage others to do the same.

Current NYC Climate Action Alliance projects include connecting law firms and other tenants of commercial office space to energy efficiency resources and bringing together a panel of environmental justice advocates, renewable energy professionals and representatives of the Mayor's Office to discuss decarbonization of the housing that serves low income residents.

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We are launching a media campaign to celebrate the good work of New Yorkers who've taken on the fight against climate change and to encourage action by those who are looking for ways to decrease the City's carbon footprint by doing our part as individuals, families, and members of diverse and powerful NYC communities. Over the next year, we'll look to tackle significant structural legal impediments to the acceleration of decarbonization in New York City.

To be clear, our work only amplifies the efforts of countless New Yorkers who have seen and continue to see the need to act in the face of a changing climate. New Yorkers have always been leaders. We start fashion trends, set the bar on social justice issues and shape the world economy. Our approach to climate change is no different. New York communities, businesses, NGOs and individuals continue to lead the charge to reduce the City's greenhouse gas emissions by partnering with other New Yorkers to make climate-smart actions easier and more cost-effective for those around us.

Together, as New Yorkers, we are emerging as powerful citizen and civic climate leaders. By demonstrating that the country's largest and most dynamic hub of creativity and commerce can reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 80% in less than half a century and maintain its commitments under international climate accords, we are showing the world a path to do the same. In achieving our goal of a carbon neutral, climate resilient and economically vibrant New York City, we are proving that culture, economy and climate leadership go hand in hand. We may not have the guidance, or even the backing, of our current federal government, but we have the optimism, grit and determination that New Yorkers bring to all important challenges. Moreover, we have a network of climate leaders, a deep well of knowledge and lessons learned, and a strong desire to support one another in reaching our collective goal. As New Yorkers, we see the wisdom and power of working together to take on a challenge that is bigger than each of us but not bigger than all of us.


Jeffrey Gracer is the President and Amy Turner is the Executive Director of the NYC Climate Action Alliance, an organization they co-founded, with others, to catalyze a broad, inclusive and non-partisan civic movement to inspire all New Yorkers to adopt and scale up proven climate solutions in their homes and workplaces and to demonstrate support for NYC's 80x50 goal.

Mr. Gracer is a principal at the environmental law firm Sive, Paget & Riesel P.C. in New York City. Jeff serves on the U.S. board of the Climate Group and was the founder of the Environmental Program at the Vance Center for International Justice at the New York City Bar Association, which focuses on providing pro bono advice on environmental issues around the world.

Prior to assuming the role of NYCCAA Executive Director, Ms. Turner practiced environmental, corporate and nonprofit law in New York City for a decade, including at Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP, Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy LLP and in solo practice. Amy is co-chair of the Environmental Law Committee of the New York City Bar Association and serves as secretary of the board of directors of the Brooklyn Greenway Initiative.

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