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NYC Buildings Reduced Emissions By 22% Over The Past Decade, But Progress Has Slowed

Lower Manhattan

While New York City real estate has significantly improved its carbon footprint over the past 10 years, its progress is slowing, jeopardizing the city's emissions target, which it views as critical to avoid climate disaster.  

Greenhouse gas emissions from the city’s large buildings fell over 22% since 2010, mainly due to the increased use of cleaner electricity and steam, according to a new Urban Green Council report this week. However, the rate of improvement has slowed over time, posing a barrier for the city to reach its goal of an 80% pollutant decrease from 2005. 

“This report is a monument to our city’s progress and a call to action for us to work harder and faster to lower harmful emissions,” Mark Chambers, director of Mayor Bill de Blasio's Office of Sustainability, said in a release. 

The 50,000 large and midsized buildings included in the report total 5% of buildings in the city and contribute over a third of its overall emissions. These also make up half of the city’s building emissions, according to the Urban Green Council

“This 10-year data set not only guides NYC’s climate approach, it can inform decisions in other cities so we can get to a low carbon future faster,” Urban Green Council CEO John Mandyck said. 

New laws enacted to help propel a decrease in emissions seem to have had a positive impact on new construction, according to Urban Green Council. Among multifamily properties, which make up a huge portion of the buildings included in the report, those built after 2010 use half the energy of buildings 40 years old or more.

In addition to energy codes that went into place in 2010, the commercial industry was forced to pivot on energy use in 2019, when the city passed the Climate Mobilization Act, which imposed strict emission limits for large and midsized buildings. 

New York is faring better than the rest of the world in terms of environmental mitigation efforts in buildings, a buildings and construction report released by the United Nations this week shows. Emissions hit a new record last year, increasing the gap between its current emissions and international goals by the middle of the century. 

“Rising emissions in the buildings and construction sector emphasize the urgent need for a triple strategy to aggressively reduce energy demand in the built environment, decarbonize the power sector and implement materials strategies that reduce lifecycle carbon emissions,” Inger Andersen, executive director of the United Nations Environment Program, said in a release on the global findings. 

CORRECTION, DEC. 23, 10:30 A.M. ET: Greenhouse gas emissions from the city’s large buildings fell 22% since 2010 and energy use has gone down 8% in large buildings, Urban Green Council found. Multifamily buildings built after 2010 use half the energy of buildings 40 years or older. An earlier version of this story misstated these facts. This story has been updated.