Understanding NYC’s Boldest Climate Change Law

NYC skyline illustration

Introducing Local Law 97

In NYC, buildings account for 2/3 of greenhouse gas emissions. Just 2 percent of buildings—the largest—are responsible for 30% of emissions.

“most ambitious climate change legislation enacted by any city in the world”

The city is tackling climate change through the Climate Mobilization Act. The centerpiece is Local Law 97 of 2019, described as the “most ambitious climate change legislation enacted by any city in the world.”

This law will set increasingly stringent limits on greenhouse gas emissions for large buildings in 2024 and 2030, with fines for not complying. It affects more than 60,000 buildings, with notable exemptions, including affordable housing.

The world is watching

A week after the law was passed, members of the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group had already begun discussing how to follow New York’s lead.

Urban Green Council told CityLab, “Our point all along has been that if we’re going to spend the billions of dollars, let’s make sure we come up with policies that are exportable.”

Given the importance of this law, it’s worth unpacking what obstacles might hinder its success. The main criticism is that too many buildings are exempt, placing unfair pressure on those that must comply. Aside from the usual suspects, such as hospitals, places of worship, and energy plants, buildings with any rent-regulated units—even just one—are exempt.

This means that 40% of residential units don’t reap the benefits or bear the burdens of required energy efficiency upgrades. Who exactly is this impacting?


Here are all the large buildings in NYC.

Though buildings over 25,000 square feet make up just a small percentage of total buildings, the reality is they are everywhere in the city.

What buildings are exempt?

Several categories of buildings are exempt from Local Law 97, including (but not limited to) hospitals, places of worship, public housing, and rent-regulated accommodations.

Of the exempt buildings, where are the residential ones?

Explore the demographics of exempt residential buildings

While Local Law 97 is a critical, necessary law, it’s also a law that puts NYC’s most vulnerable populations at risk. It appears Local Law 97’s costs, like many other aspects of climate change, will be disproportionately placed upon New York City’s poorest and most burdened populations.

Recognizing this, it is imperative that the city takes steps to secure an equitable outcome for Local Law 97. This may mean additional steps, or even laws, that guarantee the costs of the required energy improvements are not pushed onto tenants.

Additionally, community engagement and renovation oversight agencies may also prove necessary. Community engagement, because it is critical that these communities know their rights going into this process. Oversight agencies, because no process is perfect, and it is essential that a means for recourse is established.