Boston scraps summit on climate with China
As the Trump administration considers withdrawing from the Paris climate accord, Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh said Wednesday that plans to hold an international climate summit in Boston this summer, an event announced to fanfare last year in Beijing, have been scrapped for lack of federal support.
“The administration just hasn’t been responding to us to see if they’re interested in working on bringing folks here,” Walsh said at a City Hall news conference, held amid reports that President Trump may be poised to abandon the landmark climate agreement. “It doesn’t seem like there’s any interest at all in moving forward.”
Trump, who campaigned against the Paris agreement and has called climate change a hoax, said on Twitter Wednesday night that he would announce his decision about whether to remain in the pact at 3 p.m. Thursday at the White House.
The State Department-sponsored summit in Boston, revealed last June by then-secretary of state John F. Kerry, would have brought thousands of urban and business leaders to Boston from cities across the United States and China. It would have been the third such conference.
Environmental advocates and scientists had hoped the summit would provide a stage for Boston to showcase its efforts to curb carbon emissions and defend its coastal areas from rising seas, as well as learn about climate change initiatives from China and from other cities.
“The cancellation of the international climate summit in Boston is another indication of how the Trump administration is pulling out of global engagement in a way that ultimately cedes economic opportunities to other countries,” said David Cash, the former commissioner of the state’s Department of Environmental Protection who now serves as dean of the McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies at the University of Massachusetts Boston.
State Department officials did not respond to requests for comment.
The mayor’s disclosure came as he and other political leaders urged Trump to remain in the 2015 Paris accord, in which nearly 200 countries pledged specific policies to reduce carbon emissions linked to global warming.
It also came as the Brayton Point Power Station in Somerset, Massachusetts’ last operating coal-fired power plant, ended operations, a symbol of New England’s transition to cleaner forms of energy.
Some Republicans have argued the agreement isn’t fair to the United States and have warned the president that it could be used as a weapon by environmental groups seeking to fight Trump’s policies. The Trump administration has rolled back environmental regulations in an effort to help the fossil fuel industries.
But supporters note that the United States is the world’s second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, after China, and its withdrawal could cause significant harm to efforts to curb emissions worldwide.
The accord seeks to prevent the planet from warming more than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit above average temperatures before the Industrial Revolution in the 1800s. Average global temperatures have already increased about 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit since that time.
Scientists have warned of dire consequences if temperatures rise beyond the limits agreed to in Paris, including more powerful storms, major coastal flooding, prolonged heat waves, and increased droughts.
When asked about the prospect of a US withdrawal, Governor Charlie Baker said it “troubles me” and would be “short-sighted.”
“It’s important for the United States, because of the size of our economy and because of the role we play in both energy generation and consumption, that we be a global player when it comes to coming up with smarter and better ways, and more climate-friendly ways, of addressing our energy and our electricity needs,” he told reporters after an event at the University of Massachusetts Lowell.
Baker, a Republican, signed a letter last month urging Trump to remain in the accord.
Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey urged residents to contact the White House and Republican leaders to say it would be a mistake for the United States to withdraw from the agreement. The country would join Nicaragua and Syria as the only two nations that have not joined the agreement, she said.
“We need to do everything we can in our power to ensure that this president doesn’t take, not only this country but this world, and the fate and the future of our children and grandchildren, in a grievously dangerous direction,” Healey said. “We must not let this happen.”
Massachusetts Senator Edward J. Markey said the Paris agreement committed nearly every country to the task of reducing emissions.
“Withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement will be a massive economic, security, and moral failure for President Trump,” he said in a statement. “History will judge Donald Trump harshly for failing to meet this generation’s great planetary challenge.”
At his news conference, Walsh vowed that Boston would join other cities in the fight against climate change. Through the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a program that took effect across the Northeast in 2008, emissions from regional power plants have fallen nearly 40 percent. In Massachusetts, state law requires officials to cut emissions 25 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 — and 80 percent below those levels by 2050.
“We will not let this be undone by foolish political reasons,” Walsh said of the Paris agreement. “Our city depends upon it, our future depends upon it, our future generations depend upon it. Our planet depends upon it.”
As part of that effort, Walsh said, city officials are considering hosting an independent summit and have discussed the possibility with Kerry.
“It’s still in the idea phase at this point,” he said.
Austin Blackmon, the city’s environmental chief, said Boston will continue to urge the Trump administration to support the original summit plans.
“We’re not giving up our number one goal of fostering the relationships to keep pushing climate action further,” he said.
But environmental advocates and climate scientists said they worried that the summit’s cancellation was a sign of things to come. Kerry Emanuel, a professor of atmospheric sciences at MIT, called the lack of a summit “yet another blow to US leadership.”
“The administration is sending a strong signal to the international community and to US citizens and businesses that it is not interested in curbing climate risk,” he said.
He added that the nation was also ceding to China and others a massive clean energy market that has already produced new jobs and wealth.