The region’s health and prosperity depends on a life-sustaining natural environment that will nurture both current and future generations.


By 2040, the region should be approaching its goal of an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gases, eliminate the discharge of raw sewage into its rivers and harbor, and greatly improve its resilience to flooding and extreme heat.

To flourish in the era of climate change, the fourth plan proposes a new relationship with nature—one that recognizes our built and natural environments as an integrated whole.

Sustainable development is defined as meeting “the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”1 For the tri-state region, this means adding more affordable housing, expanding jobs and economic opportunity, and modernizing our infrastructure in ways that preserve and enhance our natural landscapes, make efficient use of land and resources, and make our air and water cleaner than they are today. It also means correcting the mistakes of the past that have left many communities to suffer heavy burdens of environmental hazards and injustices, threatening the health of their inhabitants and the region’s capacity for sustainable growth.

And as the effects of climate change become increasingly severe, the need for sustainable development takes on greater urgency and complexity. The challenge is no longer to preserve the environment we have today, but to plan for the environment of the future. Making communities, infrastructure, and ecosystems resilient to change and disruption is as important as using our existing resources wisely.

In many ways, the tri-state region has one of the most sustainable economies in the United States. It generates 10 percent of the nation’s economic output on less than half a percent of its land. Its population density and extensive transit network allow it to be more energy and resource efficient than most other parts of the United States. Yet its land, air, and water quality have been degraded by more than two centuries of industrialization and decades of auto-dependent sprawl, and future development will put additional strain on natural resources.

Reconnect nature and the built environment.

As the region grows over the coming decades, it is critical that we recognize that the built environment is intricately linked to the natural world. In fact, open and natural spaces are as valuable to our region as transportation infrastructure or any economic-development project. The return on investing in open and natural spaces is quite literally the food and water we consume and the clean air we breathe. And these resources both mitigate and help adapt to climate change by storing carbon, absorbing millions of gallons of stormwater, providing buffers that protect from storm surge and sea-level rise, and providing natural cooling to reduce extreme heat.

The proposals in the fourth plan would help restore a symbiotic relationship between the natural and built environment. They would reinforce growth where good transit service exists; reduce the number of miles traveled by cars and trucks, and accelerate the transition to clean fuels; ensure development is planned with health and access to nature in mind; create strong incentives to reduce the amount of greenhouse gas we emit; and restore and protect the natural systems that are critical to slowing and adapting to climate change.

Grow in ways that consume less open space and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The most sustainable places in the region are those that are already developed. Higher concentrations of people and infrastructure make for communities that are more efficient in their use of energy, water, and other natural resources. Proposals in the fourth plan would advance solutions that encourage growth in already developed places around expanded and improved transit—from rural and suburban downtowns to urban centers.

  • Remove barriers to transit-oriented and mixed-use development.
  • Reduce reliance on local property taxes.
  • Make a globally-competitive central business district.
  • Restore our regional job centers.
  • Remake underutilized auto-dependent landscapes.
  • Create a fully integrated regional transit system.
  • Modernize the subways.
  • Modernize transit systems outside of New York City.
  • Improve bus service, and add new light rail and streetcar lines.
  • Expand suburban transit options with affordable, on-demand service.
  • Reduce highway congestion without adding new lanes.

Protect open space for life-sustaining natural resources.

As policies focus on growth in developed places, we must also protect the region’s most important open spaces. Proposals in the fourth plan would prioritize unprotected land that provides food and recreation opportunities, stores carbon, collects storm- and floodwaters, and ensures abundant supplies of clean drinking water. It would also connect land and water systems to allow for endangered species to migrate and ensure redundancies for a more uncertain future—and to connect more communities to nature.

  • Prioritize the protection of land to help adapt to a changing climate.
  • Establish a national park in the Meadowlands.
  • Create a regional trail network.
  • Connect the region’s water supply systems.

Maximize the power of nature and natural systems in and around our communities.

The greatest impacts of climate change—extreme heat, flooding, and storm damage—are exacerbated where natural systems have been compromised or eliminated. The Fourth Regional Plan proposes solutions that would result in additional trees and vegetation to cool urban neighborhoods, increase wetlands, oyster reefs, and other coastal edge habitat that absorb flood waters and mitigate the impact of waves, and more green infrastructure on our streets to capture storm water and limit the pollutants that foul waterways.

  • Cool our communities.
  • Stop discharging raw sewage and other pollutants into the region’s waterways.
  • Restore the region’s harbor and estuaries.

Reduce the risks and impacts of climate change.

The reality of climate change requires strategies to mitigate impact and adapt our natural environment and infrastructure. The Fourth Regional Plan recommends the region reduce greenhouse gas emissions by expanding the market for greenhouse gases by regulating automobiles and industry; change how we source, convert, and use energy in all its forms; and usher in a cleaner and more reliable energy grid. Our developed coastal areas would experience the greatest changes as sea levels rise and coastal storms become more intense and frequent. A new model of governance—a Regional Coastal Commission—funded by new state adaptation trust funds, would ensure risk in these places is limited, in a cohesive way, through protection, retreat, or innovative ways of living with water.

  • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions with a cap-and-trade market modeled after California’s program.
  • Modernize the electrical grid.
  • Scale up renewable energy sources.
  • Manage demand with energy-efficient buildings and variable pricing.
  • Electrify buildings and vehicles.
  • Establish a regional coastal commission.
  • Institute climate adaptation trust funds in all three states.
  • Protect densely populated communities along the coast from storms and flooding.
  • Transition away from places that can’t be protected.
  • Determine the costs and benefits of a regional surge barrier.

1. World Commission on Environment and Development, “Our Common Future: Report of the World Commission On Environment and Development,” 1987

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