Cities Launch Solutions to Global Environmental Problems

The NYU Environmental Law Journal, NYU Environmental Law Society, and the Furman Center for Real Estate and Public Policy cosponsored a symposium on “Localities in the Lead: The Path of Environmental Progress through New York City.” Introducing the event, Professor Katrina Wyman discussed what she described as a relatively new era of focusing on environmental policy at the municipal level. “Municipalities aren’t just taking an interest in traditionally local issues, like land use or brown field,” she said, “but also taking an interest in the preeminent global environmental issue of our time: climate change.”

New York City in particular has been extremely active in recent years in environmental policy, Wyman said, pointing to the PlaNYC initiative. Because of this, she said, the city serves as a good case study for thinking through the challenges involved in working through environmental policy at a municipal level.

In the keynote address, Carter Strickland, commissioner of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, further discussed the PlaNYC initiative, and emphasized the growing importance of cities as platforms for environmental policy. By 2030, he said, the population of New York City will have increased by one million, and by 2070, 70% of the world’s population will live in cities.

“Localities matter because they’ll feel the brunt of it, in a very particular way. One of the longest measured histories of sea-level is at the battery, and it’s shown a very demonstrable rise to date,” he added. “We’re going to see a very substantial rise of a foot or two feet over the next 70 years.”

Two panels, both moderated by Professor Roderick Hills, further explored these issues. The first panel, which featured Professor Bob Alpern of the Pratt Institute, Charles Komanoff, director of the Carbon Tax Center, and Kate Sinding, senior attorney at Natural Resources Defense Council, focused on the challenges and limitations that confront efforts to promote sustainability in the urban setting. Some of the challenges discussed included limitations on state home-rule power over land use decisions (concentrating on recent fracking litigation), taxes and fees on various forms of waste, and efforts to promote an environmentally friendly transportation system. In the afternoon, a second panel, which included experts from GrowNYC, the New York City Department of City Planning, and the Urban Green Council, discussed some of the innovations in environmentally progressive efforts that have arisen in New York City.

Video from Carter Strickland’s keynote address (51 min):

 

Video from Panel 1 (1 h 38 min):

 

Video from Panel 2 (1 h 26 min):