Boston Plays Host for International Meeting of Mayors on Climate

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Mayors from all over the world are joining Marty Walsh, this Thursday, June 7th for a summit on climate change. This summit is to take place at Boston University and will feature John Kerry, the 68th Secretary of State, and Gina McCarthy, the 13th administrator of the EPA, as notable speakers. The gathering is for an organization called C40, which is a collection of mayors around the world who recognize the growing influence of global cities and work towards addressing climate change. Boston joins London, whose congestion charging initiative has dramatically reduced vehicle usage in the city and San Francisco, which hosts one of the largest composting and recycling systems, in taking the lead to move past planning and move to action.

This summit will focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions as well as strategies to mitigate the effects of climate change around the world, which brings into question: how is Boston doing on its climate change goals? Mayor Walsh expanded climate goals initially introduced by Mayor Menino for 2020, and lays guidelines for Boston’s 2050 hopes of carbon neutrality.

So, what are these 2020 goals? For starters, they focus on emissions reductions of 25% below 2005 levels. The Walsh administration hopes to achieve these goals by focusing on major reductions in neighborhood, large building, and transportation emissions. The plan does not target specific neighborhoods or industrial areas, but it lays out specific reductions for each category. It also calls for a mix of specific action items such as 36,000 home weatherizations to increase energy efficiency in neighborhoods, and less specific goals such as reducing energy usage in large buildings or reducing vehicle miles traveled.

To date, Boston has reduced emissions by 17% below its 2005 levels, despite an estimated 106,698 increase in population size since 2005. This increasing population adds drivers to the road, increases housing demands, and makes it increasingly difficult for the city to reach the remaining 8% reduction needed to reach its 2020 goals. These initial emissions reductions are largely due to a shift toward natural gas and renewable energy and away from oil and coal. While switching to cleaner energy sources was a simple solution, Boston and Mayor Walsh have received criticism for extending natural gas and fossil fuel infrastructure in the city instead of addressing long term and more complex solutions to reduce the city’s vulnerability to climate change.

While the city’s commitment to these goals has not wavered, it is uncertain if the city will hit this benchmark, which may have an effect on Boston’s and Massachusetts’s 2050 climate goals. Failure to meet these goals could stimulate backlash as 2017 poll found that 88% of Mass voters believe that the world is getting warmer, and 69% of them believe that effects of climate change have already begun. However, the city itself is setting an example as municipal buildings reduced emissions by 27% (with the purchase of some clean energy credits) in 2014, years ahead of the goal. This gives hope that the rest of the city can follow suit to meet this goal, but many of the remaining action items require community and commercial support. Currently, the city is on track to reach this goals, but only if Mayor Walsh can continue to draw support from the ever-growing communities in Boston.