Katie Kinne

Boston's climate summit is still on tap. Now the city's lining up potential partners.

Katie Kinne
Boston's climate summit is still on tap. Now the city's lining up potential partners.

By Don Seiffert

Just two days after Boston Mayor Martin Walsh announced plans to hold an international climate summit, it appears that plenty of organizations and businesses are eager to sign on.

In his speech Wednesday morning to the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, Walsh noted that the summit would be “for cities across America and around the world,” and noted that “we’re not only going to make our city stronger. We’re going to rally our nation and our world to meet this fundamental challenge.”

Austin Blackmon, chief of Environment, Energy, and Open Space for the city of Boston, said in an interview Friday that the idea is still very early in the planning process. He said it only came about a few weeks ago, when the U.S. State Department made it clear that a planned U.S.-China Climate Summit — announced in the summer of 2016 and for which the federal government was to have been a partner — “is not a priority.”

Ever since President Donald Trump — who claims to be a skeptic of climate change — took office in January, the State Department had refused to commenton the planned U.S. China summit, and the city ultimately canceled the event.

“We said, well this is important enough for us that we’re going to ... host a convention to get mayors and their staff involved,” he said.

Blackmon said that he wasn’t expecting the State Department to help pay for the event, only the diplomatic aspects of negotiating details with China. As a result, the scope of the summit will now be larger and may include international partners.

Walsh is vice chairman of the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, which includes 90 of the world’s biggest cities, and is also involved with the Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance, a group with a goal of making the world’s cities carbon-neutral by 2050. Blackmon said the summit is largely seen as an extension of the conversations already underway.

But right here in the Boston area, potential partners are already raising their hands. The city of Cambridge, which just this week signed an agreement with the cities of Boston and Copenhagen to help advance each city’s climate goals, told the Business Journal today that while it hasn’t spoken with Boston officials yet, it’s interested in helping with the summit.

“In light of the recent signing of the memorandum of collaboration, Cambridge is looking forward to working together with Boston and Copenhagen on climate change mitigation and climate resiliency, including participating in the Climate Summit in Boston next year,” said Susanne Rasmussen, Cambridge’s director of Environmental & Transportation Planning.

Amy Longsworth, director of Boston’s Green Ribbon Commission, likewise said she hasn’t had any specific conversations about the summit in the past few days since it was announced. However, she said her group would likely be involved.

The commission, an all-volunteer organization that aims to foster public-private partnerships to address the issue, includes several privately-owned companies and organizations with long-standing roots in Boston who are motivated to help address the issue and prepare the city for a weather-related event.

“We have people leading organizations who are long-term invested in the city of Boston,” she said.

That’s especially true, she said, considering a report released last Decembercalled Climate Ready Boston found, among other things, “a severe flood with a 1 percent annual chance of occurring would inundate 2,100 buildings, representing $20 billion in real estate value, and including the homes of 16,000 Bostonians. Such an event would cause an estimated $2.3 billion in physical damages to buildings and property and other economic losses, including relocation and lost productivity.”

Asked if the recent hurricanes in Texas, Florida, the Caribbean and Puerto Rico would likely spur heightened interest in the issue, Longsworth said simply, “I would think so.”