Boston hosts international summit on climate change, announces plan to get more mayors invested in green energy

Mayors from far and wide convened in Boston prior to the U.S. Conference of Mayors for Boston’s International Mayors Climate Summit, a one-day event including a series of panels and discussions focused on  mitigating the effects of climate change.

Boston Mayor Martin Walsh opened the summit by announcing an initiative to get more cities and towns invested in renewable energy solutions and criticized the Trump administration for turning its back on the Paris Climate Agreement.

“As mayors we understand how climate change is affecting our communities, to us this is not a political football,” Walsh said. “This is about the immediate health and well-being of our constituents and our neighbors …we’re going to continue to move forward.”

Walsh’s initiative asks different cities and towns to provide data on how much energy they use and how much of that energy should be generated from renewable sources by the year 2040. Walsh said the data will be used to obtain free estimates on the costs of future green energy projects and their potential benefits. Orlando, Chicago, Houston and Los Angeles have expressed interest in it.

Planning for the effects of climate change and building resilience was the theme of the first panel , where Mayor Walsh touted Boston’s successes while also recognizing what still needs to be done.

“We’ve done an awful lot of planning over the four years and prior to my administration as well, but it’s time for solutions now and it’s time for investments right now,” Walsh said. “It’s going to have to take a public investment, three-way, from the city, from the state and from the national government, at some point the federal government.”

Walsh spoke about investment from the nonprofit sector as well and the responsibility of developers to pay into resiliency measures. He discussed building  a seawall, park reconstruction and raising streets to block flood pathways, as some of the costly solutions Boston is exploring.

Walsh also talked about the importance of engaging with developers and business owners in order to plan ahead for the impacts of climate change.

“As a mayor we should be having that relationship with these folks already because they house our major employers, they provide jobs; they’re part of our tax base so it is important for us to be partners,” Walsh said.

Bud Ris of the Boston Green Ribbon Commission, a group of business and nonprofit leaders dedicated to reducing carbon emissions and fighting climate change, echoed the importance of partnerships.

Ris said the commission’s involvement with the Climate Ready Boston study, an initiative announced by the city in 2016, has already made a difference, getting 50 of the largest property owners to cut carbon emissions by 20 to 25 percent.

“What’s really important now is the mayor talks about going from planning to implementation,” Ris said. “And I think it’s important to understand that resilience issue particularly requires a lot of planning. You’ve got to get the science straight, you’ve got to figure out who, what, where is going to be affected and what the value is to the residents … and then you’ve got to pinpoint what to work on in terms of strategy.”

Bill DiCroce of Veolia, a company that works on addressing environmental and sustainability challenges in energy, water and waste, spoke more about development and the need to plan through legislation or zoning before a building boom.

“Once a building is designed it’s too late to change gears, once a building is designed the steel is purchased,” DiCroce said. “I think we really would have done a better job [in Boston] at getting in the process very early.”

DiCroce said financing is the biggest issue. Though it may cost somewhere between $2-2.5 billion over a decade to prepare for resilience in Boston, he said the resources are there to make it happen.

“I think cities are struggling with this issue over investment,” DiCroce said. “There’s so much more money than there are actual opportunities …[partnerships] can bring serious forces to bare on these challenges that you necessarily can’t wait another 5, another 10 or another 20 years .”

Jordan Frias

Jordan Frias is an editorial assistant at Boston Herald and a contributor of Spare Change News. He is vice president of the New England Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and a graduate of Northeastern University's School of Journalism.