An unprecedented climate of change

Daniel L Doctoroff

At a time when Washington has avoided taking the lead on addressing critical environmental challenges, states and local governments have stepped up to fill the void. PlaNYC, New York City’s ambitious effort to transform our urban environment and combat global warming, has put us at the forefront of that effort. The philanthropic community has been a critical part of PlaNYC at every step of the process.

Two years ago, we set out to create a plan that would prepare New York City for long-term, sustainable growth. It evolved into a plan that addresses every facet of our urban environment – our transportation network, housing stock, land and park system, energy network, water supply and air quality. Added together, its 127 initiatives embody the broadest attack on global warming – a 30 per cent reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 – ever undertaken by a city.

Whether converting the entire New York City taxi fleet to hybrid vehicles, launching the most aggressive tree-planting effort in the nation, or instituting a pioneering congestion pricing plan to reduce car traffic and create funding for critical mass transit projects that have languished for decades, these initiatives represent a radical shift in the way New York thinks about its environment. Although many are bold, they are all achievable. In fact, for every single one, we identified how they would be implemented and where the funding would come from.

Philanthropic support began at the design stage and has carried on right through to implementation. For example, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and many foundation-sponsored organizations served on our Sustainability Advisory Board, providing invaluable technical advice on the design of the plan. Eleven separate foundations helped create the Campaign for New York’s Future, a strong and diverse coalition of environmental, public health, transportation, civic, business, labour and religious groups, to provide the tools, including political support, to implement the plan. To ensure citizen participation, several major corporate foundations signed on to underwrite GreeNYC, our multimedia consumer education campaign on sustainable living.

A toolkit for other cities

As comprehensive as PlaNYC is, climate change is not something that can be addressed by New York City or any one place alone. It must be tackled around the world. With that in mind, PlaNYC was designed to serve as a toolkit for other cities to use to create plans of their own.

That’s why we hosted the C40 Large Cities Climate Summit in May which brought together more than 35 mayors from the world’s largest cities to discuss climate change and exchange ideas. There, too, foundations and social investors supported the conference with funding and ideas. Most important, the Clinton Foundation announced a partnership with New York and 15 other cities, four of the world’s largest energy service companies and five of the world’s largest banks to create a landmark programme designed to reduce energy consumption in existing buildings, a key part of PlaNYC (see p44).

Foundations leading the way

As New York’s experience demonstrates, foundations of all sizes can lead the way on climate change. They can help to establish plans like PlaNYC in other cities; partner with local governments to form public-private committees to help design city-specific plans; support the research and analysis – directly or indirectly – necessary to create the initiatives; assemble coalitions of non-profit and advocacy groups to provide technical and political support; foster the release of scorecard reports to keep elected officials accountable to promises made.

The philanthropic community can have an immediate and significant impact on one of the most important issues of our age. The cities of the world need your relationship, your credibility, your experience and your money if we are going to address the threat of global warming that faces us all.

Daniel L Doctoroff is New York City Deputy Mayor for Economic Development and Rebuilding. Email

For more information
To learn more about PlaNYC, visit
To learn more about the Campaign for New York’s Future, visit

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