After the cap and trade program died in Congress in 2009, and the successor to the Kyoto Protocol never appeared at the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Conference, climate change stagnated on the national agenda of the United States. With a hyper-partisan Congress, it became apparent that the political will to address climate change through the legislature simply did not exist. However, in June of 2013, President Obama introduced a roadmap for climate action that sought to address climate change while sidestepping congressional involvement entirely.
Dubbed The President’s Climate Action Plan, the Plan describes itself as “a blueprint for steady, responsible national and international action to slow the effects of climate change so we leave a cleaner, more stable environment for future generations.” It consists of three main pillars of action that the executive branch can take without relying on a recalcitrant Congress. The three main pillars are: (1) cut carbon pollution in America; (2) prepare the United States for the impacts of climate change; and (3) lead international efforts to address global climate change.
So what does the President’s plan mean for New York City?
For a national-level plan, the Climate Action Plan actually focuses a fair amount on a specific issue with a great deal of relevance to New Yorkers: Hurricane Sandy, the similar storms that will come in the future, and how we can best prepare for them. Pillar number two of the President’s plan, “Prepare the United States for the Impacts of Climate Change,” describes various executive branch initiatives to support rebuilding in the Hurricane Sandy-affected region that includes New York City, while also promoting resilience for the future.
The Plan recognizes that the country must learn from Hurricane Sandy and its aftermath, including the importance of resilient infrastructure and the need to quickly restore the supply of fuel and electricity. Accordingly, Obama’s “Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force” will deliver a report to the president in August 2013 on the rebuilding strategy in Hurricane Sandy-affected regions, with the purpose of creating precedents to follow after similar storms in other regions.
In addition, a number of programs will promote smarter redevelopment in coastal communities in and around New York City, including a regional “Rebuilding by Design” competition hosted by the Task Force, and a $100 million competitive grant program at the Department of the Interior to promote “resilient natural systems.” The United States Army Corps of Engineers is also undertaking a $20 million study “to identify strategies to reduce the vulnerability of Sandy-affected coastal communities to future large-scale flood and storm events.”
While any action on the climate front on the national level is encouraging, New York City is no new-comer to the challenges that climate change presents. In 2007, the Bloomberg Administration released PlaNYC2030, which established the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the city by 30% by 2030 and increasing the resilience of the city. Additionally, after Hurricane Sandy, the Bloomberg Administration supplemented the city’s climate planning and preparedness with the report “A Stronger, More Resilient New York,” which set out over 250 recommendations to prepare the city for future climate change-related challenges.
So, to sum up, the president’s Climate Action Plan is a step in the right direction, and New York City enjoys a fair amount of attention in the plan. The programs in the president’s plan should dovetail with the Bloomberg Administration’s own ambitious climate change efforts to minimize the impact of climate change on New York City in years to come. Most importantly, the Climate Action Plan keeps climate change on the national agenda, and will hopefully lead to more serious action on the national and international levels in the years to come.