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Climate Week in New York: Opportunities for Leadership Ahead

Capalino+Company Energy, Environment + Sustainability in NYC

Written by Rich Kassel, Executive Vice President

Every September, Climate Week brings thousands of decision-makers, investors, and advocates to the City for a week of events, announcements, meetings, and commitments.  As this year’s Climate Week draws to a close, it’s worth taking stock of some of the highlights:

  • 4 million young people marched through the streets of the world’s cities, demanding action on the climate crisis (the term for global warming now preferred by many advocates and newspapers, including The Guardian).  
  • At the United Nations, 65 nations announced efforts to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. 
  • According to The Climate Group, which organizes the annual Climate Week NYC events that surround the UN General Assembly meeting, companies as diverse as Accenture (a Capalino client), Target (retail), Deutsche Telekom (Europe’s largest telecom operator), JCDecaux (outdoor advertising), Trane (HVAC systems for buildings) and lululemon (athletic and leisure clothing) made new pledges to move to 100% renewable electricity.
  • A group of 130 banks from 49 countries launched the UN Principles for Responsible Banking, accelerating the banking industry’s contribution to achieving the Paris Accord on climate change.

Of course, not all of the news was good.  Just prior to Climate Week, the Trump administration announced its intention to revoke California’s authority to set stricter vehicle emission standards as its latest effort to roll back the nation’s climate commitments. (It’s worth noting that the federal Clean Air Act allows other states to opt into California’s program, which New York and most other northeast states have historically done.  If the administration is successful in fending off the expected legal challenges, future cars in New York will average about 37 miles per gallon, instead of the 54.5 mpg expected by 2025 under the California program, costing New Yorkers millions of dollars at the pump).  And, the International Panel on Climate Change issued its latest warning, this time focusing on the global warming’s risks to the world’s oceans and fisheries.

Here at Capalino+Company, we prefer to focus on the positives, and on the business opportunities inherent in New York’s climate and clean energy policies. 

As I have written before, New York has been throwing the ball long on climate and clean energy. 

  • In 2014, the Cuomo administration committed to increasing the number of electric vehicles on the road to 685,000 in 2025 and 2 million in 2030, from a 2018 baseline of roughly 38,000.   
  • In January, New York committed to building out the nation’s largest offshore wind industry, which will generate 9,000 megawatts by 2035.  To illustrate the scale of this commitment, there are five offshore wind turbines in all of North America today, yielding only 30 megawatts of power. 
  • The Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, passed by the State Legislature this year and signed into law in July, codified the Governor’s prior commitments and now puts the State on a path to ensure that 70% of the State’s electricity comes from renewable energy by 2030, and that the State reaches “net zero” greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
  • In the MTA 2020-2024 Capital Plan approved by its board this week, the MTA announced that it will buy 500 electric transit buses – and that by 2029, it will phase out the purchase of diesel buses entirely.  To get a sense of the scope of this commitment, the MTA has only 10 electric buses today.
  • At the City level, the Climate Mobilization Act, a package of bills passed by the City Council this spring after years of leadership by Environmental Committee Chair Costa Constantinides, includes provisions that will require more than 50,000 large buildings to be retrofit by 2030 to reduce their energy consumption.  The package of bills also authorize Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing, a form of voluntary financing that will reduce costs for building owners and developers who use it. Our firm is now partnering with a PACE capital provider to help our clients secure financing for their building retrofits and other energy financing.
  • With little fanfare, the City’s Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) moved toward a petroleum-free future for the City’s sanitation trucks, buses, and other diesel vehicles by issuing a Request for Proposals for renewable diesel, an alternative fuel that can replace conventional diesel and reduce greenhouse gases by up to 65% with no capital infrastructure needs whatsoever.

A recent McKinsey report concluded that business leaders cannot ignore the physical impacts of climate change without increasing risk to their global infrastructure, supply chains, asset prices, and economic growth.  The report urged companies to assess, plan, decarbonize, and make “climate intelligence” a core capability.   While the report focused on the actions of companies, the advice is equally valid for cities and states.

Implementing New York’s recent steps will help ensure that New York City and State follows this approach.  Doing so should reap a win-win – first, that we will be retooling our great City and State to be more energy-efficient and competitive in years to come, and second, that we will be doing our part to lead the way to avoiding worst-case climate change in decades to come.

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