Bloomberg on Lessons from Sandy, at Clinton Global Initiative

September 25, 2013 Updated: September 30, 2013

NEW YORK—The Clinton Global Initiative has hosted its annual meeting in New York since its inception in 2005. This year Mayor Michael Bloomberg went on stage to speak for what will be the final time during his tenure.

“I’ve got 97 days, but who’s counting,” the mayor joked to moderator Fareed Zakaria of CNN.

The topic for the panel was Building Resilient Cities and Coastlines, a subject the mayor is all too familiar with. Oct. 29 will mark one year since Hurricane Sandy hammered the New York and New Jersey coastlines, causing over $50 billion in damage.

The mayor discussed how important planning is for cities.

“We had certainly not planned for Sandy,” Bloomberg said, “The way that hurricane hit us is not the way any other hurricane hit us before, and we certainty did not do everything right.”

Following the storm, the mayor put together a team to figure out a way to rebuild the city, protect it from rising seas and stronger storms, and structure agencies to plan for future disasters. On June 20, the mayor unveiled his 430-page report listing more than 250 recommendations.

The mayor received praise for his work, but he had a warning: “The next disaster is not going to be the last disaster,” Bloomberg said. “No matter what you think about and plan for, that is not what you are likely to face.”

Following the storm, climate change was labeled as a primary cause, thrusting the topic into the forefront of the conversation. It has been hotly debated around the world, and especially in the United States.

Jim Yong Kim, President of World Bank Group, wants to see that conversation end. He cited a yet-to-be released report that will say scientists are 95 percent sure climate change is real.

“I can’t believe we are still having these discussions,” Kim said. “In many countries around the world they have stopped having that argument and are moving forward quickly to build resilient cities.”

Kim said in Shanghai when buildings reach a certain level of “green,” the government comes in and changes the standards so that all the buildings have to meet that new standard. He said in New Delhi, their government passed regulations mandating the use of natural gas.

Kim noted to change policies here, especially with a strong oil and gas lobby, is much more difficult.

Much of what is done now to combat climate change comes at the city level. When Bloomberg took office, he began to look at pollution in the city, 80 percent of which comes from buildings, not transportation, as in other cities. The mayor saw the health effects of air pollution, such as asthma in youth, and began to formulate a plan.

In 2007 he launched PlaNYC, which set goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent by 2017. In April, the mayor reported the city’s emissions were down 17 percent, more than half way to the goal.

“This is one of the great stories. New York City is one of the great stories about how you can make a decision, get the policies in place, get the incentives and things just move.”