Post Sandy, Boston prepares for climate change

Sargents Wharf, Boston during Sandy. Photo: Matt Conti.

 UK Exclusive:

In the wake of the devastating Hurricane Sandy that wrecked large parts of the US east coast, one of the main talking points has been focused on rebuilding and the huge costs associated with this – but also assessing future impacts from climate change and what we can do to mitigate and adapt to it.

By Anders Lorenzen

Today a report released by The Boston Harbour Association and compiled by Dr. Ellen Dougla
s, Associate Professor of Hydrology, University of Massachusetts Boston, Dr. Paul Kirshen, Research Professor, University of New Hampshire, Vivien Li, The Boston Harbour Association, Chris Watson, Research Assistant, University of Massachussets, and Julie Wormser, Executive Director, The Boston Harbour Association titled ‘Preparing for the Rising Tide’ examines the warning signals Hurricane Sandy gives and how we should safeguard, adapt and mitigate to future climate threats that climate change in the shape of rising sea levels presents to us.

Latest models predicts that Boston can expect up to 0.6 metres sea levels rise by 2050 and 1.8 metres by 2100, and that temperatures have increased by
around 1 degree celcius since the 1800’s, with the majority recorded in the last few decades. When Hurricane Sandy made its entry into Boston, its citizens were in luck, two scenarios contributed to the fact that it did not cause the same amount of devastation as it did on New York and New Jersey, first it did not enter Boston at full speed and crucially it was low tide. The authors of the report argue that had it been high tide it would have been disastrous for the city.

Boston has a history of considering climate impacts and has since 2008 been the third greenest city in the US. In 2009, Mayor Thomas Menino established The Climate Action Leadership Committee in which climate mitigation had an important role. He enforced mitigation to be integrated into all planning and project reviews conducted by the City. He also aims to plant 100,000 new trees in the city by 2020, which would take Boston’s tree cover up to 20% and want to take it’s Solar PV capacity up to 25MW by 2015 alongside a series of wind power projects.

In an email to A Greener Life, a Greener World, Environment and Energy Chief for the City of Boston, Brian Swett, said when we put the question to him; if Boston in the wake of the increased flood-risk should look at decentralised energy to keep the lights on, he responded
: 

The City of Boston is strongly supporting the State of Massachusetts and our utilities piloting of smart grid technology and expansion of distributed generation and renewable energy technologies. The City of Boston is actively looking at ways to establish micro-grids and expand the use of co-generation at the building and district level’’  

 He also stated that Boston is at the forefront of reducing stormwater runoff and cited the example of a recently completed sewer overflow tunnel that they’re looking to extend to store stormwater. In addition, Boston is in the early stages of piloting the installation of permeable surfaces and already mandates new large buildings projects to retain the 1” of a rainfall, Brian said.

However the report argues that despite Boston’s recognition as one of the more climate aware cities, even more work could and should be done to prepare the city for future and current risk of flooding. Policies that exist and policies that are proposed must be integrated and upgraded to include buildings and infrastructure. To increase Boston’s fight back against coastal flooding it will demand a strong partnership through all sectors, public and private, to optimise the resources and expertise available.

Boston’s existing Climate Action Plan creates a framework for climate change preparedness and by using that framework, the community needs to accelerate the development of actions such as creating robust partnerships between sectors to prepare Boston’s waterfront and neighborhoods for the expected rise in sea levels, the authors state, alongside a list of recommendations –  one of them being that the City should discuss the concept of ‘Living with water’ and it’s potential applicability to Boston.

The authors conclude that coastal flooding introduced by climate change is a reality that needs to be dealt with, but neither the private nor public sector alone has the resources or experiences to deal with it. That’s why a partnership across all sectors is crucial to safeguard Boston against future flooding.

Brian Swett indicated that Boston is serious about climate change: 

Mayor Thomas M. Menino has established Boston as a national leader in reducing greenhouse gas emission and promoting a clean energy economy through initiatives such as Renew Boston and the first in the nation green building standards for private developments.  Through the Climate of Progress, the City of Boston’s Climate Action Plan, Mayor Menino has adopted a goal of 25% GHG emissions reduction by 2020.  To further inspire action, Mayor Menino has launched Greenovate Boston, a new sustainability movement to ensure a greener, healthier and more prosperous future for the City’’.  

And he hopes Obama continues to drive forward carbon reduction policies saying:  

‘’Mayor Menino continually supports President Obama’s efforts to address climate change and hopes that Washington can come together to take bold action add invest in carbon reduction technologies’’.

Subedited by Charlotte Paton

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