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More than ever, Boston needs to host climate summit

Rising sea levels caused by climate change pose a threat to Boston’s future. David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe

Hosting a global summit on climate change for 2,000 attendees? Bostonians can do that in their sleep.

Even as the United States prepares to pull out of the Paris climate accord, Mayor Marty Walsh should still forge ahead with a conference that gathers urban leaders from the United States and China to curb the effects of a warming planet.

The confab might not be as big or have the blessing of the Trump administration, but canceling the summit would mean the climate-change skeptics win.

Now more than ever, we need to show the world that Americans care about the environment, even if our president doesn’t.


Walsh said Wednesday that the conference was in jeopardy because of a lack of federal support. But canceling shouldn’t be an option. This isn’t Hartford. If Boston organizes an international conference, people will come.

Last year’s summit was in Beijing, and Walsh went. It was there that he, along with then-secretary of state John Kerry, announced with much fanfare that Boston would host this year’s gathering.

It was hailed as an opportunity for Massachusetts to emerge on the world stage as a leader in addressing climate change. Some of Boston’s most valuable real estate sits on the waterfront — on land that rising sea levels could put underwater. Yeah, I’m looking at you, Seaport District.

Walsh launched an initiative called Climate Ready Boston to deal with the threat, while the state has become a leader in clean-energy policy and is home to businesses that deal in energy innovation — including EnerNOC, 1366 Technologies, and Digital Lumens. Then, of course, there’s General Electric and its Ecomagination clean-tech strategy.

Boston officials say they’ve been holding off on formal planning of the forum until the White House makes a decision on whether to stay in the Paris climate agreement. On Thursday, President Trump announced the United States will withdraw from the deal, calling it unfair and harmful to the American economy.


Without State Department cooperation, it would be hard for the city to get Chinese officials to come to the table.

This is Boston. We are well-connected. Let’s get Kerry, our hometown diplomat and former US senator, to cajole Chinese leaders and policy makers into participating.

Kerry is certainly fired up, and on Thursday he urged cities, states, and businesses to honor the deal.

“Twenty-nine states have passed renewal portfolio standard laws. Another eight have adopted voluntary renewable standards. In total, those 37 states represent 80 percent of the US population,” Kerry said in a statement. “America doesn’t have to cede leadership even if its President has.”

There are also other channels to work through. Think of all the peer-to-peer relationships that exist in education, health care, and business: Harvard, Massachusetts General Hospital, State Street, Fidelity Investments. Those institutions could invite their counterparts to the conference.

We also have a trove of climate-change experts who can help get the right people from China to attend. I’m thinking of former US energy secretary and MIT professor Ernest Moniz; MIT’s Valerie Karplus, an expert on energy systems in China; leading environmental economists Rob Stavins and Joe Aldy; and former state environmental secretary Ian Bowles, who worked on the Kyoto Treaty — the predecessor to the Paris agreement — when he was in the Clinton administration.

In the nonprofit sector, there is the influential Barr Foundation, which has made protecting the environment one of its top causes. Its president, Jim Canales, said in an e-mail that he would be “open to helping out” but wants to make sure the summit doesn’t detract from the city’s broader goals on climate issues.


I’m confident Walsh can chew gum and walk. Boston officials were never worried about the actual logistics. The city planned on getting partners to help raise the $2.5 million needed to host a multiday confab. Universities and nonprofits already have offered meeting space. Groups like the Boston Green Ribbon Commission and the Conservation Law Foundation can help rally civic and business leaders.

The United States and China are the world’s biggest producers of greenhouse gases. Who will lead? If you ask Medford boy turned billionaire crusader Michael Bloomberg, he will tell you that cities and citizens — not Washington — must be on the front lines of combating climate change.

Now is the time to step up, not step back.

Shirley Leung is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at shirley.leung@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @leung.