NYC Local Law 97: A game-changing ordinance for a sustainable future

In a world grappling with the urgent need to combat climate change, New York City has taken a pioneering step by implementing Local Law 97. This groundbreaking ordinance, introduced in 2019, aims to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions from buildings—the largest source of emissions within the city. By understanding the key provisions and implications of Local Law 97, we can gain insight into its transformative impact on New York City’s sustainable future.

Overview of Local Law 97
Local Law 97 establishes strict emission limits for most buildings over 25,000 s/f, with a phased approach to compliance. The law employs the concept of carbon intensity, which accounts for both building size and usage, to calculate annual emission limits. These limits will gradually become more stringent over time, with the most substantial reductions slated for 2030 and 2050.

Implications and Goals
The overarching goal of Local Law 97 is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2030 and 80% by 2050, compared to 2005 levels. Achieving these targets necessitates widespread adoption of energy efficiency measures and the transition to renewable energy sources. The law incentivizes property owners to undertake energy-saving renovations and implement renewable energy systems, ensuring that older buildings are retrofitted for greater sustainability. Moreover, Local Law 97 promotes equity by providing technical and financial assistance to property owners, especially those in disadvantaged communities. One financial assistance opportunity is C-PACE financing, which is a unique financing tool that allows loan payments to be made over the life of the asset

Challenges and Opportunities
While Local Law 97 presents an ambitious and laudable initiative, it also poses challenges. Retrofitting older buildings may require substantial investments and expertise, which could strain property owners financially. Additionally, ensuring compliance and measuring emissions accurately requires effective monitoring and reporting systems. However, the ordinance creates numerous opportunities for job creation in renewable energy and energy efficiency sectors, leading to economic growth and skill development.

Benefits for New York City
Local Law 97 offers numerous benefits for the city and its residents. By reducing emissions, the law improves air quality, enhancing public health and mitigating the impact of climate change. It also contributes to the creation of a green economy, fostering innovation and attracting investments in clean technologies. Furthermore, Local Law 97 aligns with New York City’s commitment to becoming carbon-neutral by 2050, as outlined in the One NYC plan. It sets an example for other cities around the world, inspiring them to adopt similar legislation and collectively address the global climate crisis.

Criticism and Future Considerations
While Local Law 97 has received widespread support, it is not without its critics. Some argue that the emission limits may disproportionately burden smaller buildings or financially disadvantaged property owners. Balancing the need for emissions reduction with affordability and equitable distribution of responsibilities remains a complex challenge. As the implementation of Local Law 97 progresses, ongoing evaluation and adaptation of the ordinance will be essential to ensure its effectiveness and fairness.

New York City’s Local Law 97 stands as a bold and transformative response to the climate crisis, positioning the city as a leader in sustainable urban development. By placing stringent emission limits on buildings and promoting energy efficiency, the law charts a path towards a greener and more resilient future. Through its implementation, New York City exemplifies the critical role cities play in combating climate change and inspires other municipalities to take decisive action towards a sustainable and prosperous future.

James Cinelli, P.E., BCEE, is a principal of Liberty Environmental, Inc., Manhattan, N.Y.


As Published in New York Real Estate Journal