Precipice of Doom: the dire implications of the IPCC 2018 climate report for New York City and State

IPCC CO2 Emissions Pathways Chart stripped bare | original source: IPCC Summary Report 2018

It doesn’t take much effort to get to page 6 of the IPCC 2018 Summary for Policy Makers where readers are faced with a cataclysmic, cliff-like chart plotting an extremely compressed time frame in which the world must flat-line at net zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in order to avoid just the worst of run-away climate impacts.

IPCC Summary for PolicyMakers

Let’s be honest: the world, the United States and certainly New York City and State are building out an energy future utterly unprepared for a precipice just two short years ahead featuring an unprecedented descent towards net zero emissions.

In New York State, two organizations — The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) and The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) — are particularly tasked with managing a downward trajectory of GHG emissions, and neither are anywhere near prepared for the steep decline of the IPCC report. In the case of RGGI — a market-based approach to GHG emission management — its tools are doing anything but restricting the unmitigated transition towards Marcellus Shale Fracked Gas as the fossil fuel de jour. This is an organization designed to move New England and Mid-Atlantic states away from fossil fuels, and yet it cannot stop the infrastructure overbuild designed to instill a 40+ year dependency. Industry and politicians still refer to fracked gas as a bridge towards a less intensive fossil fuel future. This is no bridge, this is a freeway to yet more fracked gas consumption.

Marcellus Shale Methane ‘hot spot’ and New York’s primary source of Fracked Gas | source: Earth and Space Science News

In 2015, NYSERDA released the state’s energy plan with relatively conservative goals designed to transition New York away from fossil fuels:

  • 40% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from
    1990 levels.
  • 50% generation of electricity must come from
    carbon-free renewables such as solar, wind,
    hydropower and biomass.
  • 600 trillion Btu increase in energy efficiency gains,
    which equates to a 23% reduction from 2012 in
    energy consumption in buildings.

Along with the plan, NYSERDA also released the state’s GHG inventory and forecast, a business-as-usual overview of relatively slight reductions, especially given the drastic requirements presented in the 2018 IPCC report. As seen in the chart below, this is decidedly not a steep trajectory downward towards net zero GHG emissions.

New York State energy sector forecast for GHG emissions | data source: NYSERDA

To make matters worse, the current fracked gas frenzy is resulting in massive power plants all running 24–7 on gas, blowing through any possible cushion that might have been achieved in other sectors of the state’s energy portfolio. The CPV power plant, Cricket Valley, Danskammer and the Meadowlands — all base load projects designed for 40+ years, 24–7 operation, cancelling all hope of meeting the state’s 2015 energy plan goals, much less the IPPC net zero trajectory.

Proliferation of 40+ year Fracked Gas power plants are proliferating throughout New York City and State | mapped by author

To make matters even much, much worse, behind and ‘upstream’ of the power plants are the pipelines and compressor stations — all contributing significantly to the failure of New York State to get control of its GHG emissions. A 24K hp fracked gas compressor station is worth approximately 27K new cars, and the state is building a lot of these stations, the majority since 2011.

All the Stations — NYS Fracked Gas Compressor Station proliferation | 1998–2017 | data source: NYSDEC, mapped by author
The majority of Fracked Gas Compressor Station infrastructure buildout has happened since 2011 | original data source: NYSDEC

While Fracked Gas production, transportation and fueling of base load power plants is normalized throughout the state, New York City is anything but an innocent bystander. Recently the New York Communities for Change in partnership with other organizations published a report which found that 50% of the GHG emissions from NYC buildings are coming from 2% of the building stock, and that building stock is by and large luxury towers.

NYS skyline marked by Luxury Towers which produce inordinate amounts of GHG emissions | source: Planetizen

While the consequences of our collective inability to quash GHG emissions are going to fall squarely on the most vulnerable, and typically in countries that are fractionally responsible for the looming crisis, New Yorkers are by no means going to escape unscathed. This past summer, the New York Times published an interactive map computing extreme heat days in the past compared to decades forward. All told, there are going to be a lot of extremely hot days forthcoming with significant local impacts.

How Much Hotter Is Your Hometown Than When You Were Born? | source: NYT

In conjunction with radical shifts in its local climate expectations, New Yorkers should be under no illusions about the particular threat that the city faces from rising sea levels. While there are several models that are gaining traction that feature both ‘static’ and ‘dynamic’ assumptions, a decent ‘average’ of the projections is arguably the FEMA 2050 100-year floodplain with an assumption of 31 inches of sea level rise. As seen in the following map, this results in very specific, localized risks with implications for a lot of significant infrastructure necessary for the regional functioning of New York.

2050 100-yr Floodplain across NYC 5 Boroughs | Dark Blue = Flood Extent | data source: https://data.cityofnewyork.us/Environment/Sea-Level-Rise-Maps-2050s-100-year-Floodplain-/hbw8-2bah , mapped by author

Without a doubt, New York finds itself in the crosshairs of a massive crisis that is literally becoming more pressing each passing day. Agencies, governmental bodies, think tanks, many well meaning but ineffectual ‘green’ organizations and certainly industry and market forces are not going to bend the unrelenting upward trajectory of GHG emissions radically downward and avoid this impending crisis. Simply put, this collective failure and dereliction of effective leadership leaves us stranded and alone in this crisis. We really have only narrow choices before us: take the situation into our own hands; take responsibility for what we can do; do whatever we can now as individuals and localized groups to avoid the worst of the IPCC report scenarios. Will this be enough? Likely not. But with 100% certainly we know doing nothing at all will result 100% in the worst IPCC scenarios.

Further Reference:

  1. As the fracking protesters show, a people’s rebellion is the only way to fight climate breakdown | George Monbiot
  2. How To Close The Gap: What We Need To Do and What We Actually Do About Climate Change | The New School Faculty (NYC) Respond to the Latest IPCC Report