Major climate summit coming to Boston next year
BEIJING — A major climate summit will come to Boston in 2017, putting the city on the world stage as urban leaders from the United States and China work to curb the effects of a warming planet.
Secretary of State John F. Kerry made the announcement Tuesday at this year’s conference in the hazy Chinese capital, declaring that cities like Boston were “in the eye of the climate change storm.”
Kerry’s speech served as a capstone to a climate summit that brought together mayors and other urban leaders from more than 60 cities in the United States and China. The Boston conference in 2017 will be the third such gathering; the first two were hosted by Los Angeles and Beijing.
Kerry said the 2017 conference will give Boston the opportunity to emerge as a global leader in the battle against climate change. Some 2,000 business officials and urban leaders are expected to attend the gathering.
“Boston is a coastal city that understands the threat of rising sea levels and extreme weather,” said Kerry, who recognized Mayor Martin J. Walsh in the audience. “It has already taken extreme steps in order to reduce emissions and mitigate the harmful effects of climate change.”
Hosting environmental leaders from across the globe will be an unprecedented opportunity for Boston businesses and clean energy innovators to expand their reach and influence, said Peter Rothstein, president of the Northeast Clean Energy Council.
“It means that the leading innovators from around the world are going to come here, not just the private sector and labs, but also the cities that are the customers for a lot of these sustainability solutions,” Rothstein said. “They’ll come here for demonstrations but also for their challenges and needs for problems they haven’t solved.”
A conference of this scale “really cements Massachusetts’ reputation as a clean energy leader,” said Peter Shattuck, director of the Massachusetts office of Acadia Center, a nonprofit research and advocacy organization.
“It puts the Massachusetts companies on display,” Shattuck said, pointing to a recent report from the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center showing that the clean energy industry in the state grew by 12 percent in 2015, employing about 100,000 people. “It’s not a given that cleantech will set up shop here. They need to seize opportunity for companies investing billions to relocate to a place like Boston.”
From a tourism perspective, the conference could generate about $1 million in hotel and restaurant spending, said Patrick B. Moscaritolo, president of the Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“That’s a great amount of advertising and promotion of our destination,” Moscaritolo said.
Local environmental leaders said the conference presented a strong opportunity for Boston to show off what successful projects the city has implemented, as well as learn from China about its own policies.
“This is an enormous honor and a clear sign that the policies put in place in Boston and Massachusetts to cut greenhouse gas emissions and grow a clean energy economy are working and are of worldwide significance,” said Ken Kimmel, a former commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Protection.
The host city has an opportunity to set the agenda leading up the summit and can influence policies across the United States, China, and beyond, said Mark Watts, executive director of C40, an alliance of more than 80 global mayors that organizes the conference.
The goal of these summits is to put cities at the forefront of the battle by working together to reduce greenhouse gases. On Tuesday, Walsh signed an agreement to curb emissions on behalf of more than 500 mayors from across the globe. For the first time, the agreement included urban leaders from China, which advocates hailed as a crucial step to halt global warming.
“China didn’t cause climate change. But there’s absolutely no way that we can prevent climate change without leadership in China,” Watts said. “The rate of urbanization here and the scale of energy consumption in cities mean it must happen in [Chinese] cities.”
The agreement requires cities to establish ambitious but achievable goals to curb greenhouse gases. They also report data so each city’s carbon emissions can be tracked and compared.
In Beijing, visiting mayors and other officials took note of the gauzy haze that blurred the horizon in this famously smoggy city. One high-ranking Chinese official acknowledged the challenge ahead, but said the country is making “a relentless effort to make out cities cleaner (and) more beautiful.”
“Despite all the challenges of a developing country, we are doing our best,” said the official, Yang Jiechi, a state councilor. “We have such a huge population in China. We have a burdensome challenge.”
Jiechi and others noted that China had made some strides that put it ahead of the United States. Beijing, for example, has scores of electric cars, and the cities of Nanjing and Shenzhen have thousands of electronic buses.
In conversations with Chinese leaders and local media, Walsh noted that Boston has faced its own environmental challenges, comparing the cleanup of Boston Harbor to the smog that chokes Beijing.
“When government and elected officials and the public put their minds together, we can do great things,” Walsh said. “If we cleaned up the Boston Harbor, they can tackle the air here.”
In a speech to the China-US Climate-Smart/Low-Carbon Cities Summit, Walsh said that there was “no more pressing, or defining, global challenge than climate change.” He noted that as a coastal city, Boston was particularly at risk to rising seas and intensifying storms, and he recalled the city’s record-breaking winter of 108 inches of snow.
“This was no coincidence,” Walsh said. “It was very likely the result of climate change.”
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