Extreme Heat & Air Quality

As the climate warms, a major impact is the increasing magnitude and frequency of extreme heat events; average summer temperatures are increasing while the length and severity of heat waves are also increasing. NYC summers are getting hotter. According to the NYC Panel on Climate Change (NPCC), by the 2050’s, NYC can expect to see the number of 90-degree days double, and the number of heatwaves to either triple or quadruple. As climate change drives higher temperatures and more frequent heat emergencies, the impacts on frontline communities across NYC will only increase. According to the NYC Heat Vulnerability Index—an index that identifies neighborhoods with higher heat-related risks—the most heat-vulnerable communities in NYC are predominantly composed of low-income residents of color. 

Over the last several years, NYC-EJA has worked to minimize the disproportionately negative effects of extreme heat on communities of color and reduce the urban heat island effect. To achieve this, our work focuses on improving air quality and reducing co-pollutant emissions to address the compounding health impacts from heat coupled with bad air quality. Additionally, we work to maximize “cooling” strategies, including expanding the urban forest, increasing access to cooling centers, and advocating for increased home energy assistance.

Find our new report on community heat and air quality monitoring below:

For a one-pager describing the disproportionate impacts of extreme heat in NYC:

NYC-EJA’s Community Heat and Air Mapping Project for Environmental Justice (CHAMP-EJ) is a grassroots heat and air quality monitoring campaign led by low-income communities of color in New York City. This builds on our previous research from 2018 called “Community Air Mapping Project for Environmental Justice” (CAMP-EJ)” which was a grassroots campaign that focused solely on air quality monitoring and was led by low-income communities of color in New York City. We included heat as a research focus because of the dangerous combined effects of extreme heat and air quality on environmental justice communities. For CHAMP-EJ, community-based organizations in the South Bronx, Manhattan, and Brooklyn measured, mapped, and assessed their exposures to fine particulate matter (PM2.5) air pollution and the urban heat island effect. Utilizing mobile monitors, communities collected and visualized hyperlocal heat and air quality data in real-time and we leveraged this data to make recommendations on how best to mitigate heat and air quality concerns across NYC, while prioritizing public health and community development. Check out the new CHAMP-EJ report and press release here.

  • ElectrifyNY: Electrifying our public transportation and ports will reduce air pollution and health impacts compounded in high heat.
  • Last Mile Coalition: Seeking to regulate last-mile warehouses by preventing the clustering of these sites in EJ communities that add air pollution. 
  • DEC Air Monitoring – Per the CLCPA, monitor and identify mitigation measures for air quality in ten key EJ areas (including Brooklyn, Bronx, Manhattan, and Queens).
  • Renewable Ravenswood – Aims to transition NYC’s largest power plant to emissions-free energy.
  • PEAK coalition: Aims to shut down all peaker power plants that are activated during high-demand events like heat waves and exacerbate air quality issues.
  • Climate Works for All: Ensuring buildings make energy efficiency upgrades to comply with Local Law 97, therefore making buildings less reliant on fossil fuels and better prepared for extreme weather events.
  • Renewable Rikers: Close Rikers and reimagine the island as a hub for renewable energy that would relieve the air quality burdens of fossil fuel infrastructure in EJ communities.
  • Congestion pricing: Reduce vehicle traffic and associated tailpipe emissions and pollution.
  • New York Renews: As a co-founder and active leader within this transformative statewide coalition, we’re pursuing a range of legislative efforts to raise the funding required to realize the NYS Climate Leadership & Community Protection Act (CLCPA), the most ambitious state climate action law in the nation
  • Just Nature NYC: Research to better understand NYC’s vegetation distribution and develop a cool corridors program to improve the built environment and decrease the impacts and intensity of UHI.
  • Forest for All NYC: Execute key urban forest agenda items to increase canopy cover/vegetation while improving the care and stewardship of the NYC urban forest, which improves air quality, decreases UHI (when the 30% threshold is reached), and provides many other benefits.

Accomplishments

  • Passed in 2020, local law 84 was passed requiring annual reporting on neighborhood heat vulnerability from the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. This report is to include the number of heat-related deaths, including the number of heat stress deaths and the estimation of heat-exacerbated deaths.

  • Also passed in 2020, local law 85 requires an annual plan outlining NYCs communication efforts to inform residents on heat exposure. This includes the dangers of heat exposure and ways to access cooling during heat-related emergencies. LL 85 is a joint consultation effort with the Office of Emergency Management, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and the Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability. The initial plan began on May 15th, 2021.

  • Senator Parker’s bill, S.8431, directs the Department of Environmental Conservation, in consultation with the environmental justice interagency coordinating council and the climate justice working group, to conduct a study on the impacts of the urban heat island effect on disadvantaged communities.