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Walsh announces regional effort to tackle climate change

On the two-year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, Mayor Martin J. Walsh announced the creation of a regional summit on climate change Wednesday, saying rising sea levels and powerful storms pose a pressing threat.

“The climate knows no municipal boundaries,” Walsh said at a press conference at the Architecture Boston Expo, held at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center.

The summit will be held next spring at the University of Massachusetts Boston and will coordinate a regional approach to climate change, drawing a number of agencies as well as officials from Cambridge, Somerville, Chelsea, and other towns and cities.

Scientists project that sea levels could rise one to two feet by 2050, and three to six feet by 2100, threatening coastal areas.


Brian Swett, Boston’s chief of Environment, Energy, and Open Space, described Hurricane Sandy as a “near-miss” and said the region has since dodged the worst of several other severe storms.

“This problem is only going to be exacerbated,” Swett said. “We need to make sure people are ready for storms they have never experienced.”

Hurricane Sandy, the largest Atlantic storm on record, killed 73 people, damaged hundreds of thousands of homes, and caused billions in damage. It missed Boston’s high tide by five hours, sparing the coast from more extensive flooding.

Sea-level rise in Boston is likely to be above average, because the city’s land mass is sinking about six inches each century, according to a 2013 city report “Climate Ready Boston: Municipal Vulnerability to Climate Change.”

Walsh said addressing climate change should be a leading priority, and pledged to make preparations a “Greater Boston success story.”

“I believe climate change is not a burden we take on, but an opportunity we embrace,” he told the convention audience.

Leaders welcomed a regional approach.

“We have a big job to tackle here, and if we try to tackle it alone, we will fail,” said Marc Draisen, who directs the Metropolitan Area Planning Council. “Climate change is right here, right now.”


Officials also announced the kickoff of an international design competition.

Called “Boston Living with Water,” the competition invites teams to submit design solutions to rising ocean levels for three locations — in the North End, Fort Point Channel, and flood-prone Morrissey Boulevard. The competition has a first-place prize of $20,000.

Kairos Shen, chief planner for the Boston Redevelopment Authority, said climate change will demand innovations in design, both for new and existing development and infrastructure.

“We need to have new ideas to confront these changes,” Shen said.

Over the past year, Boston has made progress in preparing for climate change, officials said. The city has added backup solar power to four emergency shelters and a number of infrastructure projects to help mitigate flooding are underway. The BRA has launched a climate preparedness questionnaire as part of its development review process.

The city will release its latest climate action plan next month for public comment.

Peter Schworm can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @globepete.