When Cutting Emissions, Don’t Overlook Transportation

Photo: Roman Kruglov | Flickr

This week, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the launch of the NYC Retrofit Accelerator, a program to aide residential building owners and managers in upgrading their buildings’ energy and water efficiency. The initiative targets residential buildings and arrives a year after Mayor de Blasio introduced a plan to reduce city-owned buildings’ greenhouse gas emissions. Both initiatives are part of New York’s goal to slash city ghg emissions by 80 percent by 2050 from 2005 levels.

NYCbuildtolastCutting building emissions is low-hanging fruit for cities as densely developed and transit-dependent as New York. In 2013, commercial, industrial, institutional and residential buildings were responsible for 71 percent of the city’s total ghg emissions. Residential buildings alone accounted for 34 percent.

The initiative aims to cut citywide ghg emissions by one million metric tons per year by 2025–the equivalent of taking 200,000 cars off the roads. The program does not, however, aim to take any actual cars off the roads. Perhaps it should.

A 2014 study by the University of California-Berkeley’s Center for the Built Environment calculated transportation emissions were more than 90 times as ghg-intense per square foot compared to water-efficiency related emissions. To help the city reach its 80 percent reduction of 2005-level emissions would be to ensure that these energy-efficient buildings are also walk-, bike- and transit-accessible–which isn’t guaranteed even in New York.

In 2013, citywide emissions dipped nearly 20 percent lower than those in 2005. A considerable 60 percent remains to be cut within the next 35 years. Ensuring residents have access to quality pedestrian, biking and transit amenities would not only make New York safer, but closer to its ambitious 2050 goal as well.

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