New York City, NY - On Monday, June 24th, 2019, New York City made history as the largest city in the world to declare a climate emergency. Residents from all over New York City rallied on the steps of City Hall in support of Resolution 0864-2019 (“Resolution declaring a climate emergency and calling for immediate emergency mobilization to restore a safe climate.”) The NYC City Council Committee on Environmental Protection heard testimony for the resolution, which was introduced by Council Member Ben Kallos and Environmental Protection Committee Chair Costa Constantinides. This declaration was a critical first step toward acknowledging the Climate and Ecological Crisis and moving toward a just transition for New York City to become carbon neutral.
October 2018’s IPCC Special Report on Global Warming showed that implementation must begin immediately - only rapid, drastic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and systemic changes will prevent global climate catastrophe.
“This declaration of a climate emergency by the New York City Council is an urgently needed move toward speaking truthfully in public about the undeniable empirical reality of global climate breakdown,” said Rory Varrato, spokesperson for Extinction Rebellion.“In the face of this grim reality, major world cities can and must show how this dire planetary crisis can be addressed through local action. By doing so, these cities will become catalysts for the kinds of just, transformational changes we must enact if organized human life on Earth is to persist beyond the short term.”
The impacts of further planetary heating will include droughts, food and water shortage, crop failures, mass displacement, and increasingly powerful storms, wildfires and floods, both in the US and abroad. Further, a May 6th United Nations report predicts the extinction of over one million plant and animal species due to human-caused climate change and habitat loss. This will impact every species on this planet, including human beings, in ways we cannot yet predict.
"We are in the midst of a climate crisis," says Councilmember Ben Kallos, who introduced the resolution authored by partner organizations. "New York must take bold steps in protecting its citizens, or we will suffer more sea-level rise, more climate injustices and more Hurricane Sandy's. We must face the climate crisis head-on and look at the overall systemic issues that have put us here, as that is the only way to fully confront the issues.”
“New York City knows too well that we are in a climate crisis,” said Constantinides. “Declaring a climate emergency solidifies that New York City stands ready to fight the effects of this phenomenon. Such a move only reinforces the importance of the City Council’s Climate Mobilization Act, and will drive us to pass more meaningful legislation that gets real justice for communities shouldering environmental burdens for too long.”
The lack of any serious climate crisis response in Washington makes it essential that the nation’s major cities take the lead. Here in New York City, already devastated by Hurricane Sandy, we must recognize the magnitude of the climate and ecological crisis.
We must focus on reducing emissions; shifting to clean, safe renewables; protecting frontline communities; lowering all around consumption; and protecting biodiversity of all species of animals and plants. But first we must clearly name the problem. New York can and should go further and educate its citizens about the climate crisis.
By passing the historic Climate Mobilization Act, the Council has already taken an important step toward reducing the city’s carbon emissions. Now the Council must invest in climate resiliency, educate the public on the ecological breakdown, and decarbonize all industries in NYC through safe, clean energy that does not disrupt existing ecosystems.
“If we want to stop climate catastrophe, we have to tell the truth," says Ash Sanders, a member of Extinction Rebellion's Legislative Working Group, "and the truth is that we have ten years to transform our consumer behavior, our economy, and our culture to preserve life on earth. By declaring a climate emergency, the city is taking a major step in that process, marshalling its considerable resources to ensure a just, livable future for all.”
New York’s stated goal of zero emissions by 2050 is far too late and would take us to the last fraction of the last second. We need to get to net zero greenhouse gas emissions in 10 years or less, establish a Climate Resiliency Department, and establish mechanisms for participatory democracy in deciding a path forward. A problem the size of the climate crisis calls for bold solutions that are led by the people on the ground dealing with the issues.
Both Ireland and the United Kingdom have jump-started their climate mobilization through a climate emergency declaration. New York should follow suit: by declaring a climate emergency and making a public commitment to mobilize all sectors and industries toward a just, resilient, safe, clean, carbon-free economy, this resolution will acknowledge the future we face and build on the growing momentum in New York City (and within the State Government) for climate justice.