New York City announces its Green New Deal – including innovative building efficiency requirements and job creation

In a press release on April 22 , New York Mayor  Bill de Blasio announced  “New York City’s Green New Deal, a bold and audacious plan to attack global warming on all fronts….The City is going after the largest source of emissions in New York by mandating that all large existing buildings cut their emissions – a global first. In addition, the Administration will convert government operations to 100 percent clean electricity, implement a plan to ban inefficient all-glass buildings that waste energy and reduce vehicle emissions.”  The full range of Green New Deal policies are laid out in OneNYC 2050: Building a Strong and Fair City,  which commits to carbon neutrality by 2050, and 100% clean electricity. The full One NYC strategic plan is comprised of 9 volumes, including Volume 3: An Inclusive Economy , which acknowledges the shifting, precarious labour market and envisions green jobs in a fairer,  more equitable environment.

new york skyscraper

Photo by Anthony Quintano, from Flickr

A global first – Energy Efficiency mandates for existing buildings:  The Climate Mobilization Act, passed by New York City Council on April 18,  lays out the “global first” of regulation of the energy efficiency of existing buildings.  Officially called  Introduction 1253-C (unofficially called the “Dirty Buildings Bill”), 1253-C  governs approximately 50,000 existing large and mid-sized buildings- those over 25,000 sq feet-  which are estimated to account for 50% of building emissions. The bill categorizes these buildings by size and use (with exemptions for non-profits, hospitals, religious buildings, rent-controlled housing and low-rise  residential buildings ) and sets emissions caps for each category.  Buildings which exceed their caps will be subject to substantial fines, beginning in 2024. The goal is to cut emissions by 40 percent by 2030 and 80 percent by 2050.

Seen as historic and innovative, the energy efficiency provisions have been highlighted and summarized in many outlets: “New York City Sets Ambitious Climate Rules for Its Biggest Emitters: Buildings” in Inside Climate News ; “Big Buildings Hurt the Climate. New York City Hopes to Change That” in the New York Times (April 17); “’A New Day in New York’: City Council Passes Sweeping Climate Bill in Common Dreams;  and best of all,  “New York City’s newly passed Green New Deal, explained” (April 23) in Resilience, (originally posted in Grist on April 18).

Job Creation in Retrofitting and Energy Efficiency:  The New York City Central Labor Council strongly supports Introduction 1253-C  and cites job creation estimates drawn from Constructing a Greener New York, Building By Building , a new report  commissioned by Climate Works for All.  The report found that 1253-C would create 23,627 direct construction jobs per year in  retrofitting, and 16,995 indirect jobs per year in building operation and maintenance, manufacturing and professional services.  The report includes a technical appendix which details how it calculated the job estimates, based on the  job multipliers developed by Robert Pollin and Jeanette Wicks-Lam at the  University of Massachusetts Political Economy Research Institute.

The Mayor’s Green New Deal press release also states “The City, working with partners, will pursue 100 percent carbon-free electricity supply for City government operations with the building of a new connection linking New York City to zero-emission Canadian hydropower. Negotiations will begin right away, with the goal of striking a deal by the end of 2020 and powering city operations entirely with renewable sources of electricity within five years. ” The National Observer describes reaction from Quebec and Hydro Quebec in “New York City’s Green New Deal music to Quebec’s Ears” (April 23).

 

New York City and State announce plans to divest pension funds; Canadian Public Pension fund holds on to coal

I love new yorkNew York City Mayor Bill diBlasio captured headlines on January 10 2018 for his announcement that New York City will divest from fossil fuels and will sue Exxon and other oil companies for the damages of Superstorm Sandy.   Yet  it was actually on December 19 that New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer and New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo  first announced separate proposals to freeze current fossil fuel investments, divest New York’s public pension funds from fossil fuels, and reinvest in renewable energy.    Common Dreams summarized the announcements in ” ‘Undeniable Victory’: Cheers Follow Proposals to Divest Massive New York Pensions From Fossil Fuels”Reaction from 350.org (Dec. 19)  emphasized the importance of five years of citizen activism , and quoted Bill McKibben, who emphasized the symbolic importance of New York’s announcement:  “Coming from the capital of world finance, this will resonate loud and clear all over the planet. It’s a crucial sign of how fast the financial pendulum is swinging away from fossil fuels.”   (As further proof, in November, administrators of Norway’s $1 trillion sovereign wealth fund recommended no further investment in fossil fuels and  divestment from existing oil and gas shares , and in the U.K., legal changes are in the works to ease divestment for pension funds.)

At the state level,   Governor Cuomo’s press release  states:  “Governor Cuomo and Comptroller DiNapoli will work together to create an advisory committee of financial, economic, scientific, business and workforce representatives as a resource for the Common Retirement Fund to develop a de-carbonization roadmap to invest in opportunities to combat climate change and support the clean tech economy while assessing financial risks and protecting the Fund.” The New York Common Fund of the state manages approximately $200 billion in retirement assets for more than one million New Yorkers and is  heavily invested in fossil fuels, with nearly $1 billion invested in ExxonMobil alone.

At the city level, officials have set a goal of divesting the city’s  funds from fossil fuel companies within five years , according to the press release from the Office of the Comptroller,  which also highlights the complex process involved.  In February 2017,  the Office of the Comptroller had issued a  press release  stating,  “the Trustees of the New York City Pension Funds … will conduct the first-ever carbon footprint analysis of their portfolios and determine how to best manage their investments with an eye toward climate change. In the 21st century, companies must transition to a low-carbon economy, and a failure to adapt to the realities of global warming could present potential investment risks.”  The New York City pension fund includes municipal employees, teachers, firefighters and police.

Related reading re New York activism : The Divest NY website;  “How New Yorkers won fossil fuel divestment”  from the Indypendent (Jan. 12); and Noami Klein’s article in The Intercept (Jan. 11).

Contrast the New York divestment announcements with the continued fossil fuel investment of the Canadian Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB), revealed in two new reports.  In early December, Friends of the Earth Canada, as part of its ongoing campaign,  released  Canadian Coal Investment: Powering Past the Coal Alliance, and Urgewald, a German organization, released Investors vs. the Paris Agreement.  The two reports “present a compelling picture of entrenched investors holding onto the old dirty economy and its growing risks at a time when politicians are committing to the phase out of coal.” – specifically, the Powering Past Coal Alliance launched by Canada and Great Britain at COP23 in Bonn in 2017.  The Powering Past Coal Declaration commits governments to phasing out existing traditional coal power and placing a moratorium on any new traditional coal power stations without operational carbon capture and storage, and commits all partners to supporting clean power through their policies and investments, as well as restricting financing for traditional coal power stations without operational carbon capture and storage. In an October 2017  press release,  Friends of the Earth representatives asked, “Why is the CPPIB ignoring government policy and undermining Canada’s diplomatic efforts to lead a global phase-out of coal?” . To date, there has been no public statement adjusting  the Sustainable Investing position of the CPPIB to bring it in line with the Powering Past Coal Alliance Declaration.

Canadian Coal Investment: Powering Past the Coal Alliance calculates the CPPIB’s total investment in coal at $12.2 billion Cdn., with $267 million of that in new coal projects . In a global ranking in Investors vs. the Paris Agreement, Urgewald found that Canada is the 8th largest investor in new coal development, and names several Canadian institutions in its Top 100 Investors list, including SunLife  (ranked #31 with $895 million invested); Power Financial Corporation (#53 with $631 million invested); Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec ( #71 with $433 million invested); Royal Bank (#86 with $356 million invested); and Manulife Financial ( #98 with $282 million invested).

Also of interest:  “Failure to Launch” in Corporate Knights  magazine (Jan. 15 2018), which provides a serious discussion of the problems of pension plan regulation as the answer to its tagline question: “Why are Canadian pension funds dragging their feet when it comes to climate change?”

 

 

A Roadmap for more energy efficient large buildings in Canada

Roadmap infographic

From http://www.cagbc.org/retrofitroadmap, the website of the Canada Green Building Council

The Canada Green Building Council (CaGBC) has released  a new report which makes recommendations for retrofitting  large buildings as a means to achieving significant  reductions in  GHG emissions by 2030. The Roadmap for Retrofits in Canada  report  builds on a 2016 document by CaGBC, Building Solutions to Climate Change: How Green Buildings Can Help Meet Canada’s 2030 Emissions Targets .

The Roadmap  report begins with analysis of the carbon reduction potential of large buildings in Canada,  based on the factors of size, age, energy source, regional electrical grid, and building type. The analysis was conducted by Montreal consultancy WSP.  Some conclusions may seem obvious – for  example, despite its relatively clean energy grid, Ontario contributes  the greatest emissions from buildings because of the concentration of  large buildings  and the reliance on natural gas for heating and hot water. The level of detail of the analysis, however, reveals more surprising observations , for example: “In all provinces, the “other” asset class category represents the largest opportunity for carbon emissions reductions. This asset class includes warehouses, entertainment venues, leisure and recreation buildings, shopping centres, and colleges and universities.”

CaGBC’s Roadmap for Retrofits in Canada  presents its recommendations for action, clustered in 4 categories, ( in order of their magnitude of impact):

  1. Recommission buildings that have yet to achieve high performance status by optimizing existing building systems for improved control and operational performance;
  2. Undertake deep retrofits in buildings to high-performance standards such as LEED, focusing on energy reduction and ensuring that key building systems such as lighting, HVAC and envelopes are upgraded.  Most impact will come from deep retrofits in  buildings over 35 years old, and in buildings using electric resistance heating systems in regions with carbon-intensive electricity grids (Alberta, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia). Retail buildings are highlighted as an important sector .
  3. Switch to low carbon fuel sources in 20% of buildings over 35 years old in all regions; and
  4. Incorporate solar or other on-site renewable energy systems. The report states that this action would bring the highest carbon emissions reductions in Alberta, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. It would  also be most impactful for  buildings with large roof-to–floor space ratios, such as retail, education and institutional buildings.

The Roadmap report concludes with public policy recommendations for the building sector, including: Canada’s future retrofit code should include a GHG metric along with energy thresholds; each province should develop its own unique roadmap for retrofits, to target areas where investments can yield the highest economic and environmental benefits; and the federal  Low Carbon Economy Fund and future public funding programs should make use of a “roadmap” model.  The federal government is expected to announce policy measures this Fall – see “Federal Government eyes energy retrofits in buildings” in the Globe and Mail. For an excellent summary of the Roadmap report, see “Deep retrofits, ‘recommissioning’ could meet climate targets on their own” (Sept. 22) from  the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions (PICS) .

In related news, on September 14,  New York Mayor De Blasio proposed what he characterized as a pioneering plan to force landlords to retrofit older, larger commercial and institutional buildings in NYC.   “De Blasio Vows to Cut Emissions in New York’s Larger Buildings”  in the New York Times (Sept. 14) states that  the proposals are only sketched out and are just beginning to search for political allies.  An article in Inside Climate News summarizes the issue of energy efficiency building codes in the U.S., and briefly describes initiatives in the cities of New York, Seattle, Dallas, and Washington, D.C.

 

Public sector pension administrators are recognizing climate risk, protecting pensions of public employees in Ontario and New York City

OPTrust administers the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU ) Pension Plan, with almost 87,000 members and retirees.  On January 31, it became a leader in Canadian pension plan administration by releasing two documents:   Climate Change: Delivering on Disclosure, a position paper, and OPTrust: Portfolio Climate Risk Assessment, a report by Mercer consultants, which provides an assessment and analysis of the fund’s climate risk exposure .  The  OPTrust  press release  states: “For pension funds, climate change presents a number of complex and long-term risks. In Canada alone, pension funds manage well over $1.5 trillion in assets, which brings a real responsibility to collectively seek innovative approaches to modeling carbon exposure and its impact across portfolios.”   The position paper, Delivering on Disclosure, includes a call for collaboration amongst other financial actors to develop standardized measures for carbon disclosure.  It is noteworthy that OPTrust is governed by a 10-member Board of Trustees, five of whom are appointed by the union,  OPSEU,  and five by the employer, the Government of Ontario.

In a February 2 press release  affecting  the pension plans of New York’s public employees, teachers, firefighters and police,  the Office of the Controller of New York City announced:  “the Trustees of the New York City Pension Funds … will conduct the first-ever carbon footprint analysis of their portfolios and determine how to best manage their investments with an eye toward climate change. In the 21st century, companies must transition to a low-carbon economy, and a failure to adapt to the realities of global warming could present potential investment risks.”  The  New York City pension system  has been a leader in addressing climate change risks, including an initiative called the Boardroom Accountability Project  , which began in 2014 to give investors the ability to ensure boards are diverse and “climate-competent”.

On this point, a January 2017 report from Vancouver-based Shareholder Association for Research and Education (SHARE) found that   “… companies in Canada’s most carbon-intensive sectors are not demonstrating ‘climate competency’ in the boardroom.”   The report, Taking Climate on Board: Are Canadian energy and utilities company boards equipped to address climate change? urges greater transparency from boards at publicly-traded corporations, stating “Investors need boards to demonstrate that they are “climate-competent” – that they understand and prioritize climate change risks to long-term value, including the physical, legal, reputational, stranded asset and regulatory risks related to climate change.”   The report is based on a  review of the public disclosures from 52 companies across Canada’s energy and utilities sectors,  using 3 measures: board skills and experience, oversight, and risk disclosure. It concludes that “more companies are starting to talk about climate change in their reporting, but only three boards disclosed any expertise amongst their members on the issue, and no board included climate change knowledge in its board competency matrix.” The full report is here.  (On another note, SHARE has walked the walk by filing shareholder resolutions with Enbridge Inc., and met with TD Bank regarding their environmental and social aspects of their investments  in  the Dakota Access Pipeline. See “The Dakota Access Pipeline and Indigenous Rights.” )

Millions of people, Trillions of dollars at risk from coastal floods

A report on May 16 from an agency of the World Bank, the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR), says that cities around the world are failing to plan for fast-increasing risks from extreme weather and other hazards, and by 2050, 1.3 billion people and $158 trillion in assets will be threatened by worsening river and coastal floods alone.  Losses in 136 coastal cities are projected to rise from $6 billion a year in 2010 to $1 trillion a year by 2070.  The report, The Making of a Riskier Future: How Our Decisions are Shaping the Future of Disaster Risk is here  ; a summary from Thomson Reuters is here   .  A separate report, also in May, from Christian Aid, ranks cities with the most to lose from coastal flooding.  Topping their list: Calcutta (14 million people), Mumbai (11.4 million) and Dhaka (11.1 million).  Miami, with 4.8   million people, ranks 9th in population but tops the ranking by exposed assets in 2070 , with  $3.5 trillion. New York City ranks 3rd in exposed assets with $2.1tn.  The report also discusses the risks to the city of London, U.K.  Read Act Now or Pay Later: Protecting a billion people in climate-threatened coastal cities    .