Our Impact

City to City Trip to NYC Focuses on Climate Readiness

Posted by James Sutherland, Ph.D. on June 19, 2019

City to City is a program of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce that creates a network of community and business leaders, identifies best practices that achieve social and economic change in urban areas around the world, and brings those ideas back to Boston.

Earlier this year, the Greater Boston Chamber added Climate Readiness as one of its six public policy priorities. As part of our ongoing research into the many aspects of climate readiness, the Chamber on Monday led a group of more than 50 business, government, and civic leaders to New York City for our 2019 City to City thematic trip focused on climate readiness and resiliency. 

The day began with a presentation by the New York City Department of City Planning, which provided a retrospective on Hurricane Sandy. From there, our group took a walking tour of Lower Manhattan, an area that experienced tremendous devastation from Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Tour guides touched on commercial real estate, transportation, and tunnel infrastructure, as well as New York City’s large-scale waterfront planning efforts. New York City has over 500 miles of waterfront, compared to just over 40 miles in Boston. 

At lunchtime, the group convened at Battery Gardens and heard remarks from Mayor Marty Walsh and Elizabeth Turnbull Henry, President of the Environmental League of Massachusetts. The group was then joined by Jainey Bavishi (Director of the NYC Mayor’s Office of Resiliency) and Chris Cook (Chief of Environment, Energy, and Open Space and Commissioner of the Parks Department). In a discussion led by Bethany Patten from the MIT Sloan School of Management, Chris and Jainey spoke on climate change adaptation and resilience efforts in both Boston and New York City, and how businesses can directly play a role in supporting these efforts.

Learn more about Mayor Walsh’s Climate Ready Boston initiative.

After lunch, the group walked to Pier 11 at Wall Street for a 10-minute ferry ride on the Astoria Line over to the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Chamber member Boston Properties provided us with a behind-the-scenes look at Dock 72. Sustainability measures are a key feature of this 675,000-square-foot building because it is surrounded by water on three sides. The first floor of the building is one foot above the floodplain, and all of the mechanical components of the building are at least 20 feet above the floodplain. 

The day capped off with a presentation from the Urban Green Council and the Association for A Better New York on the implications of New York City’s Climate Mobilization Act. Passed earlier this year, the legislation is a package of bills addressing climate change. The centerpiece of the legislative package is a series of emission caps for buildings in excess of 25,000 square feet. This portion of the law is expected to impact over 50,000 buildings across New York City. The City also set a 2030 goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from buildings by 40 percent.

The legislation sets limits on emissions per square foot for 10 occupancy groups of buildings. Limits for the first compliance date in 2024 require emissions reductions from the highest emitting 20 percent of buildings across each of the 10 occupancy groups. Limits for the second compliance date in 2030 require the highest emitting 75 percent of buildings in each occupancy group to reduce their emissions. Buildings have some flexibility in complying with the law, including purchasing renewable energy credits, greenhouse gas offsets, and a to-be-designed building carbon trading program. Buildings that do not comply with the law face financial penalties.

The overview of the Climate Mobilization Act provided attendees with a case study on this first-in-the-nation cap on building sector greenhouse gas emissions. The group took home several lessons, including:

  • It is important to set reasonable deadlines that both commercial and residential buildings can meet.
  • Flexibility is an important part of any cap on greenhouse gases because some buildings will be able to retrofit more easily.
  • Legislators must keep in mind the impact that the legislation will have on housing prices.
  • Legislation must consider the significant variation in carbon intensity of different buildings and business types. The Climate Mobilization Act accounts for some of this by setting caps for 10 different occupancy group types. However, some employers, due to the nature of their business, will have much higher emissions. This can be attributed to hours of operation, use of energy-intensive equipment, and other factors.
  • Legislation should promote density and transit-oriented development, both of which can help reduce emissions from the transportation sector.

Our trip to New York City highlighted the role the business community has to play in leading on climate readiness. The Chamber is continuing our research into climate readiness and is actively seeking input from our membership on how we should approach this issue. We encourage you to reach out to Policy & Research Analyst James Sutherland with your thoughts on the Chamber’s approach to climate readiness.