Dazzling lights, soaring skyscrapers, ‘I Heart NY’ t-shirts; these are just some of the fabulous sights on show in the iconic city of New York. However, a side to the massive metropolis perhaps less often perceived, is the threat posed by the effects of climate change – nonetheless, this danger is just as real as any of the more famous aspects of the city.

The precarious nature of New York’s position was brutally exposed in 2012, when Hurricane Sandy ripped into the city. The ferocious storm resulted in 43 human fatalities, leaving hundreds more injured and tearing apart New York’s infrastructure. Almost $20 billion worth of damage was caused to transport systems, hospitals and wastewater treatment plants.

Virgin Unite, Sustainability, Cities100, NYC

Virgin Unite, Sustainability, Cities100, NYC

While storms are not themselves a by-product of climate change, the hugely destructive force of Hurricane Sandy has been linked to the phenomenon. Worryingly, such weather conditions, today anomalous, could become commonplace in the future should climate change continue to affect the planet. In a plot twist befitting a city steeped in theatrical history, New York is actually contributing to its own downfall. A report in 2015 found the city to be one of the most wasteful in the world – but before the story makes it to Broadway, New York is looking to create a less dramatic narrative for itself.

The largest public housing authority in North America is the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), which serves some 400,000 low and moderate income residents across the city’s five boroughs. The organisation has out­lined 17 strategies to re­duce the car­bon foot­print of the residents for which it provides housing. The target is to reduce emissions by 30 per cent by 2025. The proposed approaches are defined in the NYCHA’s Nex­t­Gen­er­a­tion Sus­tain­ab­il­ity Agenda, a 10-year program that includes plans to im­prov­e heat­ing and hot wa­ter ef­fi­ciency in homes, as well as es­tab­lish­ing stand­ards for new build­ings while im­prov­ing ex­ist­ing ones. The plan also encourages the large-scale use of clean en­ergy.

The efforts of the NYCHA will support New York’s overall plan for an 80 per cent reduction in carbon emissions by 2050. Progress so far has been very encouraging, with a sustainable in­fra­struc­ture already installed in 99 NYCHA de­vel­op­ments – giving more than 150,000 res­id­ents access to onsite recycling facilities. It is estimated that by 2025, the measures deployed under the NYCHA sustainability agenda will have reduced the CO2 emissions of its residents by 330k metric tons.

Virgin Unite, Sustainability, Cities100, NYC

Virgin Unite, Sustainability, Cities100, NYC

The residents of NYCHA accommodation are amongst the most vul­ner­able to the effects of cli­mate change in the city, with 54,000 liv­ing in a 100-year flood plain. So, in addition to its plans to cut carbon emissions, the NYCHA is also looking to protect its residents from any future episodes akin to Hurricane Sandy. Priorities on the agenda are flood risk and storm­wa­ter man­age­ment. Based on les­sons learnt from the 2012 natural disaster, the NYCHA has produced risk as­sess­ments and ret­ro­fit guidelines to help fortify the housing in which its residents live. Phase one of the storm­wa­ter in­fra­struc­ture im­ple­ment­a­tion pro­jects has the po­ten­tial to cap­ture ap­prox­im­ately 72 mil­lion litres of liquid per year.

Furthermore, the NYCHA is providing back-up power for all de­vel­op­ments still affected by the effects of Hurricane Sandy. The organisation is de­veloping microgrids and in­stalling 25 MW of solar power, enough to power 25,000 homes for a year. With combined efforts to cut carbon emissions while concurrently fortifying its developments, the NYCHA should help to not only reduce the impact that New York has on climate change but also reduce the impact climate change has on New York.


Cities100 is a mission shared by Sustainia, C40 and Realdania to find the 100 leading city solutions to climate change. Read the 2016 publication, and follow the conversation online using #Cities100

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