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Walsh arrives in Beijing for climate change summit

Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh will spend less than two full days in Beijing before returning to Boston.
Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh will spend less than two full days in Beijing before returning to Boston.(Craig F. Walker/globe staff/file 2016)

BEIJING — Mayor Martin J. Walsh arrived Monday in this teeming capital of more than 20 million to speak at a two-day climate summit that has drawn mayors and other urban leaders from more than 60 cities in the United States and China.

Walsh’s plane touched down in the brown, hazy smog that often chokes this metropolis, underscoring the urgent need to curb pollution in world’s most populous country.

The goal of the summit is to put cities at the forefront of the battle against climate change by working together to reduce greenhouse gases. The hope is that civic leaders can share strategies to limit carbon emissions, whether that be through a new fleet of electric buses in China or energy-efficient buildings in Boston.

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“Cities can lead the way,” Walsh said at Beijing Capital International Airport after a nearly 14-hour flight that offered vistas of ice floating in Arctic Ocean. “Mayors and local municipal leaders don’t need to wait for Congress or legislators to act. We can do a lot without them.”

He invoked the words of Pope Francis, who told Walsh and other urban leaders at a July gathering at the Vatican City that, “mayors can lead change without a lot of bureaucracy.”

Walsh is the first Boston mayor to visit China since Kevin White in 1982. The summit will put Walsh on a global stage with urban leaders from Phoenix to Sichuan, Santa Fe to Guangyuan, and Dubuque to Beijing. It is expected to include representatives from more than 20 US cities and more than 44 Chinese metropolises.

It will be a whirlwind trip for Boston’s mayor with little time to explore Beijing’s 600-year-old Forbidden City or wander beneath the red flags of Tiananmen Square. Walsh’s schedule puts him in China for 44 hours.

The journey also includes more than 26 hours round trip on a Hainan Airlines flight direct from Boston to Beijing. His itinerary does include a dawn visit to the 15th-century Temple of Heaven, where emperors once prayed.

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“There will be no real touring around the countryside,” Walsh said. “It will be pretty much the hotel. I’ll be back in Boston by 3 p.m. Wednesday.”

The conclave will represent the second meeting of the China-US Climate-Smart/Low-Carbon Cities Summit. The first meeting was held in September 2015 in Los Angeles, where urban leaders agreed to a number of steps that included establishing climate action plans and setting ambitious targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and promote low-carbon development.

Walsh said he expects leaders will come to another agreement to take additional steps during this meeting.

The summit is an initiative spearheaded by C40, an organization that works with more than 80 of the world’s cities to share technical expertise and help tackle climate change. In March, Walsh joined the steering committee of the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group as the representative for all North American cities.

As the world’s most populous nation, China must play a significant role in any serious effort to curb climate change. China accounts for roughly 20 percent of global emissions, giving its cities the potential to make a significant impact.

Walsh’s travel expenses have been paid by a private foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies.


Andrew Ryan can be reached at acryan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeAndrewRyan.