The City Council unanimously voted last week to pass a bill which would allow a task force to address rising sea levels and a recent increase in high-intensity rain storms throughout the five boroughs.
These long and short term problems stemming from climate change would be tackled by a panel of mayor-appointed climate impact scientists, according to Councilmember James Gennaro, who heads the Council’s Environmental Protection Committee.
“What we’re seeing more of now, more so than sea level rise, is the catastrophic impacts of these very high-intensity and frequent rain storms. We’re getting lots of intense weather events that are associated with the gradual warming of the atmosphere,” Gennaro said. “We’re seeing very intense rain storms on a frequency that we haven’t seen before.”
The task force was first created in 2008, under legislation penned by Gennaro, to help the city plan for wilder storms and higher oceans expected in the coming decades. By dealing with greenhouse gases, Gennaro said the bill first sought to reduce the severity of climate change. But this year’s “landmark” legislation, the councilmember said, is all about trying to adapt to it instead.
“Climate change is happening nonetheless,” he said. “We don’t control the fate of the climate around the world by reducing our own greenhouse gas. We’ll still be getting the effects.”
Gennaro said the panel — made up of private entities and representatives of city, state and federal agencies — would be called upon to bring “all of the best scientists together” to figure out the potential impacts of climate change in the city and develop protective policies around them.
Members of the task force, which will make recommendations no less than once every three years, will also brainstorm on infrastructure remedies, including the use of storm surge barriers, and improvements to the city’s sewer system, to make sure coastal parts of the city do not get flooded.
“Common sense policies,” Gennaro said, like where to develop complex buildings in the city away from future sea level complications, will also be considered by the panel.
“Last month was the hottest ever on record, and it’s only one example of the extreme weather New York City has experienced in recent years,” said Council Speaker Christine Quinn. “If this isn’t a call to action, I don’t know what is. We must act decisively now to address severe climate trends or we’re going to face tougher decisions down the road.”