Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh has been named chair of Climate Mayors, a group of city leaders that in recent years has vocally pushed for climate action on local levels in the absence of federal acknowledgement of the issue.
The Climate Mayors group will announce his appointment Monday.
After four years of presidential climate leadership Walsh has criticized as inept or insufficient, the mayor said he was looking forward to working with President-elect Joe Biden’s administration. But, he added, local leaders now need to double down on their climate efforts.
“As mayors, we’re close to the people we serve,” Walsh said. “We see how climate change is already impacting the residents in our cities, and we know how important it is for us to take decisive action for the sake of public safety and public health. American cities have led on climate action for a long time, and especially over the last four years.”
Climate Mayors, led until now by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, was founded in 2014 to help municipal leaders focus on the local implications of global climate change. It now has 468 members, mayors who lead cities in 48 states.
“We’re honored to have Mayor Walsh serve as the new chair, knowing that he will expand on this legacy, and drive an ambitious agenda focused on a green and equitable recovery across the country,” James Ritchotte, director of Climate Mayors, said in a statement.
When the United States withdrew from the Paris Climate Accord at the behest of President Trump in 2017, the mayoral coalition decided to publicly commit to the climate agreement’s goals themselves. About 400 municipal leaders representing cities with a combined population of 70 million Americans pledged to invest in renewable energy, electric cars and trucks, and cutting greenhouse gases, with hopes to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius worldwide.
In the absence of federal guidance, Walsh said, local leaders have had to chart their own path. Their concerns vary, from rising sea levels in Boston to wildfires on the West Coast to droughts in the Midwest and hurricanes in the Southeastern part of the country. But there are some best practices they can share, Walsh said.
In Boston, Walsh said, that meant creating a plan to make the city carbon-neutral by 2050, new guidelines for city buildings and affordable housing construction, and discussions about how climate change will hurt the city’s most vulnerable residents.
“We think about Boston as an independent entity. We have a lot within our own power to do,” Walsh said.
Walsh said he would like to use his position with Climate Mayors to push federal authorities for decisive leadership on climate change, but also to encourage other mayors to make their own cities more resilient and better protect their residents. Boston, with a relatively larger population and more robust environmental department, can help smaller cities adapt its five-year climate action plan.
As a new presidential administration considers investments in infrastructure, Walsh said he would like to consider putting resources into exploring autonomous vehicles and electrifying public transportation in Boston. He acknowledged that it would be an expensive project, but said it may be worthwhile.
“For the last three years and 11 months, almost, I had not had a conversation with Washington about the climate,” Walsh said, noting that such discussions were frequent under the administration of former President Barack Obama. “All of that has led to real decay in fighting for climate resilience.”
Gal Tziperman Lotan can be reached at email@example.com or at 617-929-2043.