Protecting New Yorkers from Extreme Heat
More Frequent Heat Waves Pose Increasing Risks to Public Health and Energy Systems
The frequency and severity of heat waves is expected to increase in every region in the world, according to the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). If greenhouse gas emissions go unchecked, New York State could experience up to 57 additional days above 90°F by 2050.
Even with New York’s rigorous planning to ensure the continued safety and reliability of the power grid, more frequent and prolonged heat waves increases the risk of localized outages, hindering the use of air conditioning for residents to stay comfortable and safe. While the threat of floods and coastal storms may be more visible climate impacts, extreme heat is the deadliest, causing more deaths in the U.S. than any other type of weather event. Each year, 370 New York City residents die prematurely due to extreme heat on average, according to the 2022 NYC Heat-Related Mortality Report .
The good news is that heat-related deaths are preventable, and solutions and planning are underway to address the impacts of extreme heat on New York’s most vulnerable communities.
Following Governor Kathy Hochul’s 2022 State of the State directive , an interagency initiative, co-led by NYSERDA and the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), has published interim recommendations for taking action on extreme heat in the near-term, while continuing community engagement and planning into 2023 to inform the development of a forthcoming Extreme Heat Action Plan.
How New York is Acting on Heat Vulnerability
The interim recommendations from the Extreme Heat Action Working Group (EHAPWG) and actions proposed in planning sessions outline actionable ways to address extreme heat within five opportunity areas:
- People’s Health and Well-Being
- Community Capacity Building
- Homes and Built Environment
Proposed actions include solutions at the State, community, and individual level for reducing the threats of extreme heat and vary in scope from improving alert systems to increasing utility bill assistance for income-eligible New Yorkers. Many strategies, including expanding access to air conditioners and heat pumps, tree planting and green spaces, provide cooling to neighborhoods while also addressing existing infrastructure equities.
In 2022, the State helped thousands of New Yorkers afford home cooling to receive a free air conditioner or fan through the HEAP Cooling Assistance benefit . Expanding funding for this program is included in the interim recommendations.
Public cooling centers , which often serve as shelters during storms and floods, are important for supporting those who are most vulnerable to extreme heat. Yet, evidence shows that most heat wave mortalities occur at home, underscoring the need for strategies that help New Yorkers stay safe and cool at home on the hottest days to prevent heat-related fatalities.
Read the Interim Recommendations [PDF]
Understanding Disproportionate Heat Impacts on Historically Marginalized Communities
Climate change affects all New Yorkers, but not all neighborhoods and communities experience environmental burdens or vulnerabilities equally. Extreme heat can exacerbate existing health and socio-economic inequities, reflecting patterns of historical marginalization, such as redlining.
The practice of redlining stems from post-Depression-era federal homeownership programs that offered government-insured mortgages. Neighborhoods received a risk ranking from A to D that determined mortgage eligibility, with D-rated areas defined as hazardous and marked in red on internal documents to indicate exclusion from lending programs.
Most of these redlined neighborhoods were home to residents of color, and the discriminatory lending practices caused a decline in homeownership and discouraged local investment. By reducing land prices, redlining made neighborhoods comprised predominantly with people of color targets for industrial sites, commercial development, and highways – all of which produce harmful emissions that contribute to asthma and other adverse health conditions.
Comparing Heat Inequality and Redlining in New York City
Neighborhoods that were once redlined face more severe extreme heat and higher concentrations of air pollution on average.
Redlining has had the combined effect of increasing residents’ vulnerability to heat-related illness and creating hotter communities through greater concentrations of heat-absorbing pavement and asphalt. The legacy of redlining is still visible in New York today, with D-graded New York City neighborhoods being 1.6 degrees hotter than the average city temperature, while A-graded neighborhoods are 4.2 degrees cooler on average.
Many of the neighborhoods most vulnerable to extreme heat also have inequal access to air conditioning , emphasizing the need for targeted home cooling support, green infrastructure, and cooling centers in these communities to prevent heat-related deaths and illness.
Community Engagement is Driving the Planning Process
To draft the interim recommendations, the EHAPWG consulted representatives from environmental justice communities, marginalized workers, Indigenous communities, and people experiencing houselessness.
This initial step in centering the Extreme Heat Action Plan on the expertise and experiences of heat vulnerable communities is being built upon through additional opportunities to participate in the planning process. Ongoing and upcoming engagement opportunities include:
- Co-Developing the Plan through Action Planning Forums: Monthly workshop-style virtual gatherings to shape the plan were held between November and June 2023.
- Serving on the Community Advisory Panel: Representatives serving Disadvantaged Communities will review draft sections of the plan as developed throughout the planning process.
- Providing Written Comments: Give direct input on the drafts of the plan. Public comment periods will be announced at least one month in advance.
- Sharing Feedback at Virtual Public Input Sessions: Attend or provide feedback on components of the plan at public input sessions, which will be announced at least one month in advance.
Those interested in participating in the planning process can direct general inquiries to [email protected].
Earlier this summer, four public informational webinars were held to explore how extreme heat is impacting New York and plans for helping communities and residents prepare for current and future extreme heat impacts. Recordings from the Extreme Heat Action Plan webinar series can be accessed on the DEC Extreme Heat website .
Advancing Healthier and More Resilient Communities
NYSERDA is committed to incorporating energy and climate equity across its programs and investments to build a more inclusive clean energy economy.
This government-wide effort aims to mobilize a coordinated and strategic response to the growing impacts of extreme heat on communities on the frontlines of the climate crisis. NYSERDA has a pivotal role in transforming New York’s housing and energy infrastructure to adapt to extreme heat, especially in New York’s disadvantaged communities.
EmPower+ provides no-cost energy efficiency solutions, like insulation and replacement of inefficient appliances, for income-eligible New Yorkers that make home cooling more affordable. Likewise, NYSERDA’s Solar for All program delivers electric utility bill savings to income-eligible renters and homeowners through community solar farms.
Through the Regional Clean Energy Hubs, community-based organizations across the State are offering hands-on assistance to help New Yorkers navigate clean energy programs and opportunities, including programs that help mitigate the impacts of extreme heat.
While advancing equitable access to home cooling for all New Yorkers, NYSERDA is working to build resilient clean energy systems to ensure reliable power during extreme heat events.
More On Extreme Heat
- Cooling Centers : Find seasonal cooling centers from local health departments and emergency management offices across New York State.
- Extreme Heat Advice : Explore resources and information to prepare for extreme heat events and prevent heat-related illness.
- Heat and Health StoryMap : This interactive StoryMap presents the latest research on extreme heat and impacts on health in New York State.
- HEAT.gov : Explore information and resources from the National Integrated Heat Health Information System (NIHHIS).
- Department of Environmental Conservation. (2022). Extreme heat action plan interim recommendations report. https://www.dec.ny.gov/docs/administration_pdf/ehapinterimrecommendationsreport.pdf Back to content
- Plumer, B., Popovich, N., & Palmer, B. (2020, August 24). How decades of racist housing policy left neighborhoods sweltering. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/08/24/climate/racism-redlining-cities-global-warming.html Back to content
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