This week, city and local leaders from around the world convened at the US-China Climate-Smart/Low-Carbon Cities Summit. They exchanged best practices for preparing their cities for climate change, and made bold commitments to reducing carbon emissions. Boston’s Chief of Environment, Energy and Open Space Austin Blackmon attended the conference with Mayor Walsh and reported back on what happened in Beijing.
With heat waves, sea level rise, and intensifying coastal storms, Bostonians are no strangers to the global issue of climate change. The City of Boston faces challenges like these head-on, so we are working to achieve ambitious greenhouse gas reductions and prepare our residents and businesses for the inevitable effects of climate change at home.
As an American city, we also have a particular responsibility to lead in climate action at the international level. The United States is second only to China in national greenhouse gas emissions, and cities account for 70 percent of emissions worldwide. That’s why cities from our two nations must work together to address this issue.
For that reason, Mayor Walsh and I attended the US-China Climate-Smart/Low-Carbon Cities Summit in Beijing. Mayor Walsh spoke to the international delegation about the innovative work Boston is doing on climate action, and the two of us gained fresh perspectives and new ideas on how to best prepare the people of Boston for the future.
What we learned and shared
City officials from several major American and Chinese cities attended the conference. This was a great opportunity to pick the brains of other leaders also facing climate change challenges so we could bring ideas back home to Boston.
For example, Beijing has really extensive urban biking infrastructure. It’s inspiring to see a city as large as Beijing figure out how to transport more people with lower emissions, while keeping them safe. We also heard from Greg Stanton, the Mayor of Phoenix, who is improving how commuters make it into their city in low-carbon ways as well.
Boston’s innovations and our progress in New England have already garnered attention in China. The Chinese press had lots of questions about our Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). Several Chinese cities and provinces are kicking off carbon trading pilots, and we were able to share our experiences with the person who will be leading those programs in China. They were also excited to hear about the in-depth analysis we are performing for Climate Ready Boston and Carbon Free Boston, to ensure we protect our city from climate change and mitigate our greenhouse gas emissions.
(Right: Mayor Walsh and I at the Opening Ceremonies of the US-China Climate Summit in Beijing)
During the Summit, we were able to learn more about the history and culture of Beijing. We visited the Temple of Heaven, a series of ancient buildings and open spaces where Chinese Emperors would pray for a good harvest. Built in the 1400’s, its continued use as a cultural and recreation center inspired me to ensure that Boston’s open spaces are preserved for generations to come. Breathtaking in its design and sheer expansiveness, the Temple of Heaven is even larger than Franklin Park.
But while we were out exploring the city, another thing that took our breath away was the smog. Even after walking outside for a few minutes, the air began to irritate our eyes. Maybe you can tell from this photo! (Above)
Of course Beijing is a huge city of 22 million people, but Boston is growing and keeping it a healthy place to live is a top priority for us. Our experience in Beijing energized us even more to make sure that all Bostonians breathe healthy air for generations to come.
The Summit also set the stage for major international climate networks to make serious commitments like the Memorandum of Understanding between the Compact of Mayors and the Alliance of Peaking Pioneer Cities. The Alliance of Peaking Pioneer Cities (APPC) supports China’s national peaking of CO2 emissions by 2030, and the Compact of Mayors (of which Mayor Walsh is a member) provides a transparent platform for cities to report climate progress. Signatories of the Memorandum of Understanding committed to exploring the best approaches to low-carbon development together.
As the Vice Chair of the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group (C40) Steering Committee, Mayor Walsh was the seniormost municipal climate official at the Summit and signed the official commitment on behalf of the Compact of Mayors.
After Mayor Walsh gave his speech, he was able to catch up with Secretary of State John Kerry. A Massachusetts native, and an advocate for strong climate action throughout his career, it was fitting that Secretary Kerry announced Boston will host the US-China Climate-Smart/Low-Carbon Cities Summit in 2017. Secretary Kerry commended Boston for its climate leadership and community engagement, and cited them as reasons why the State Department and the White House wanted Boston to host next year’s Summit. (Below: Mayor Walsh, Secretary Kerry, and I discussing Boston’s climate action leadership after the Mayor’s speech.)
Hosting the Summit will be a huge opportunity for Boston to bring the United States and China together on climate action. It will strengthen the economic and intellectual relationship our two nations share. It will also highlight the responsibility we have, as the two greatest emissions-producing nations, to work together on this issue.
The Summit will shine a spotlight on the work the City and the people of Boston are already doing and motivate us to rise to the occasion of combating climate change — within our own community and with our partners abroad.
It’s all about community
Throughout the Summit, we received positive feedback about the strong community involvement in our climate programs like the Greenovate Boston Climate Action Plan, Climate Ready Boston, and Imagine Boston 2030. With these efforts, we’ve flipped planning on its head, and now it’s really a community-led process. This approach is vital to our international climate leadership, because other cities see how successful it is and they want their programs to be community-based as well.
We are so proud of the people of Boston for diving into climate action in the way they have. Your priorities and good ideas will continue to be a key to our sustainability projects moving forward.