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New climate change report sparks calls for urgent action in Massachusetts

A man walked slowly through a flooded back street off Congress Street, where water was flowing over from Fort Point Channel in the Seaport district in March 2018.John Tlumacki

A landmark report concluding that the window is narrowing for decisive action to avoid the worst consequences of climate change has sparked calls for urgent action in Massachusetts.

The world’s top climate scientists found that the Earth is approaching the watershed mark of 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial temperatures a decade earlier than expected, according to the report by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, released early Monday morning.

Even if all emissions ceased today, the effects of global warming will continue, because the carbon already in the atmosphere will take thousands of years to dissipate. But some of the worst effects could be slowed or avoided if humans act quickly to stop rising temperatures, which means countries would have more time to adapt to things like rising sea levels.


For coastal cities like Boston, the threat is urgent and people are speaking out to call for urgent action.

City Councilor Michelle Wu, a mayoral candidate who has sought to establish herself as the “climate candidate” and proposed Boston’s own “Green New Deal,” said during a news conference that the report left her “quite shaken and emotional.”

Wu said there are many things that Boston can do to mitigate its own impacts, from reducing carbon emissions from new development, to replacing the city’s diesel school bus fleet, to planting more trees; she committed to planting 30,000 new trees by the end of the first year in office, double what the city is doing now.

The report Monday was a stark reminder of the urgency, Wu said, adding that policy leaders owe bold visions to protect their children and grandchildren’s future.

“The report represents the most updated of science, of metric, of worldwide consensus, and the takeaway is that it’s on our shoulders, right now in this moment to step up,” she said. “The actions that we take right now will have generational consequences. And it’s on the city of Boston to make sure we are leading the way again. This is in the DNA of our city, to step up in the moment of crisis. To fight the important fight, and to show what is possible when we come together.”


Also speaking at Wu’s event was District One City Councilor Lydia Edwards, who represents the largest area of waterfront in one district.

“Today’s report sent chills and terror through me,” Edwards said. “Climate change and this climate urgency is directly impacting all of my residents. We understand quite frankly and acutely in Charlestown, East Boston, and the North End, if we do nothing, we can’t exist as communities.”

She said Boston is already seeing the effects of climate devastation with a summer of “alternating huge thunderstorms, heavy rains, flooding, and then high heat for days on end.”

Maliha Khan of the Environmental League of Massachusetts also endorsed Wu as a climate leader, saying, “Now is not the time to prolong this call to action.”

City Councilor Andrea Campbell, who is also running for mayor and has called for a city response that is both urgent and equitable, pointed to the environmental injustice she grew up with in Roxbury.

“It is a major crisis and frankly, it’s been a crisis for a really long time,” she said. Among her plans: to modernize city buildings and electrify the city’s fleet of vehicles and school buses, help small landlords and residents retrofit homes, and to accelerate the city’s timeline for going carbon-neutral from 2050 to 2035, “which is definitely doable.”


Acting Mayor Kim Janey said in a statement, “This report is a stark and urgent reminder that we can’t wait any longer to get serious about climate change. Yes, we need state, national, and international action, but there is also work on the local level that we can do — and as mayor I am doing — to decrease the city’s carbon footprint and also plan for the impacts of climate change that already are occurring or on the horizon.”

Janey listed climate efforts her administration has undertaken, including increased investment in a study of Boston Harbor examining the feasibility of climate adaptations that would reduce coastal flooding; increased investment to transform several corridors citywide for rapid bus transit, including the construction; and a city-funded three-month pilot program offering free fare on the MBTA’s Route 28 bus, which has the highest ridership in the city.

“We don’t have a choice. If our grandchildren, including my 6-year-old granddaughter Rosie, are going to be able to live in a Boston that is cleaner, healthier, and sustainable for generations to come, we need to do the work right now — and that is what I am doing as Mayor,” Janey continued.

Councilor Annissa Essaibi George, who is also running for mayor, said her Dorchester neighborhood can see the impacts of sea level rise “every time there’s a high tide and a full moon.”


“What I like about this report is that it references the studies of actual events – not just theories and models,” she said.

“It is so critical that we act on climate now,” said Essaibi George. While the report was not surprising, she said, it pointed to the need for “more urgent and more fierce” action. She called for retrofitting city buildings and promoting efficiency in new private development as the city pursues its goal of carbon neutrality. “It needs to be an all-hands-on-deck approach,” she said.

Mayoral candidate John Barros said that many of the voters he met in West Roxbury on Monday were talking about the report.

“It’s not shocking but it’s still depressing,” Barros said. ”We’ve got to make sure that we are making real changes and not just talking about big changes.”

In his climate change action plan, Barros has pledged to accelerate the city’s carbon reduction goals; to double the capital budget spending devoted to climate resilience; to retrofit existing city buildings; and to foster the emerging green economy so that Boston can continue to lead.

”I believe I’m in the best position to work with the business community,” said Barros, the city’s former chief of economic development. “We can’t really do it without them.”

Ben Downing, who is running for governor of Massachusetts, also tweeted a call to action, including his plan to transition to a “clean energy, carbon-free future,” with equity at its center.


Others around the state noted the stark reality of what this means for humanity. “If we drag our feet, warming could exceed 4.4 degrees Celsius (8.1 degrees Fahrenheit), which could [actually] spell the end of human civilization,” tweeted climate activist group Extinction Rebellion Boston. “We are fighting for the future of humanity.”

Some remarked on the impact such dire climate news has on people’s mental health.

Released at 4 a.m. Eastern Time, the IPCC report described five possible scenarios for the future, ranging from decisive action to stop using fossil fuels to allowing emissions to increase. The planet’s current trajectory is just above the report’s middle scenario of a rise in temperature by 2.7 degrees C by the end of the century, but even achieving that will require countries to formalize legislation requiring cuts to emissions.

John Kerry, the US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, tweeted, “The climate crisis is not only here, it is growing increasingly severe.

“Now is the time for action and Glasgow must be a turning point in this crisis. We need all countries to take the bold steps required to keep 1.5°C within reach,” Kerry said.

Sahar Fatima can be reached at Follow her @sahar_fatima. Milton J. Valencia can be reached at Follow him @miltonvalencia and on Instagram @miltonvalencia617. Stephanie Ebbert can be reached at Follow her @StephanieEbbert.