INTERVIEW - Tiny New York island could be 'living laboratory' for climate change

by Ellen Wulfhorst | @EJWulfhorst | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 9 October 2019 22:30 GMT

ARCHIVE PHOTO: An aerial view of Governor's Island off the southern tip of Manhattan is shown in this January 6, 2000, file photo. REUTERS/Mike Segar/File Photo

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Spit of land off Manhattan could be used to "pioneer and test and then display solutions" to climate change threats, backers say

By Ellen Wulfhorst

NEW YORK, Oct 9 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A tiny island in New York Harbor could become a living laboratory for climate change adaptation, its top planning official said on Wednesday, helping tackle what she called "the issue of the century."

Governor's Island is a prime location for research, technology and education focused on combating global warming, said Clare Newman, head of the Trust for Governors Island, which oversees its operations, planning and redevelopment.

Located 800 meters off downtown Manhattan at the mouth of the East River, the island was a longtime strategic military outpost, most recently for the U.S. Coast Guard.

It was sold to the city and state in 2003 for $1 and is a popular site of historic buildings, an arts center, school and parkland visited by both locals and tourists.

In New York Harbor, where waves lap at its shores, the island is on the frontline of rising seas, flooding and storm surges, all effects of extreme weather linked to the planet's warming.

"The fit between the island and climate, it's so there, it's so physical, it's so present," Newman told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview.

Among conditions of the island's sale to New York was a covenant that the island have an education use, and Newman said climate change research would be a perfect fit.

"The opportunity to pair that education angle with climate change and climate adaptation, which is really going to be the issue of the century, makes pure and perfect sense," she said.

"We have this extraordinary island asset in the center of New York Harbor which has the symbolic potential to be a centerpiece."

Many U.S. cities and states have developed policies and strategies to combat climate change since President Donald Trump vowed to pull the nation out of a 2015 global accord to fight global warming and has backed fossil-fuel use.

New York City in April passed a bill requiring buildings of more than 25,000 square feet (2,300 square metres) to cut greenhouse emissions 40% by 2030 and legal requirements for new and renovated buildings to use solar panels.

"Our planet is in a time of crisis and it's on all of us to respond," New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said in an emailed statement. "We are excited to explore the possibility of making Governors Island an integral part of our fight."

For the Governors Island project, research is under way to find potential partners, from educational institutions to researchers, non-profits and policy groups, Newman said.

Funding will be determined once plans are solidified.

"One of the opportunities is to be a living laboratory where we can pioneer and test and then display solutions," she said.

"There could be commercial activity where people are creating and then making actual hardware or software that is dealing with climate issues," she said.

Currently, the 172-acre (70-hectare) island, much of it landfill from excavation for the city's subway system, is open to the public via a short ferry ride.

New York City suffered $19 billion in damages during Superstorm Sandy in 2012. The storm's intensity is largely blamed on the effects of climate change.

(Reporting by Ellen Wulfhorst, Editing by Chris Michaud

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