How Cities Are Changing the World and Leading on Climate Change

Globally, cities generate over 70% of GHG emissions, consume about 66% of energy production and produce over 80% of GDP, according to The World Bank.  Today, over half the world lives in cities of over 1 million people.  Within the next 30 years, about 70% of the world’s population will live in cities.  E2 New England, partnering with AKF Institute and the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, hosted a timely and thought-provoking program last December about city leadership on climate change.
 
The well-tempered city runs on a circular economy and is resilient, just and caring, said Jonathan F.P. Rose, President & Founder of Jonathan Rose Companies LLC, using the analogy of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier.  We already have the technology and software to create and manage circular systems: the Blue Plains Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant in Washington, DC is an example.  To create a circular economy, we need to recognize that we are all part of an integrated whole.
 
Boston has exciting plans to become carbon free, climate ready and a well-tempered city overall, as outlined by John Cleveland, Executive Director of the Boston Green Ribbon Commission.   He discussed the imperatives of Boston transitioning its economy to be carbon free by 2050, protecting flood zone neighborhoods and making its infrastructure resilient.  Imagine Boston 2030 sets out the strategic vision and planning for the Boston of 2030.  Climate Ready Boston.  Climate leadership at the city level, through The Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy, will continue to drive us forward despite what may happen at the federal level.
 
Over 1,000 mayors have signed the US Conference of Mayors Climate Protection Agreement, said Joan Fitzgerald, Professor of Urban and Public Policy at Northeastern University.  “In Trump times, cities must lead on climate change,” her November 28 article in The Boston Globe, gives examples of cities leading on climate change.  Most cities, however, need to act faster.

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Meeting Our Climate and Energy Goals In 2030 and Beyond
By Berl Hartman, E2 Chapter Director
 
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”  The opening words of Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities, might well describe the takeaway from the recent E2 New England event this past October that explored the issue of whether we can meet our climate and energy goals for 2030 and beyond.
 
Northeast Climate Goals Are Within Reach 
The nine northeastern states that signed the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) have similar climate targets: cut CO2 emissions to about 40% of 1990 levels by 2030 and 80% by 2050. Our first speaker, energy economist Dr. Liz Stanton, pointed out that if states remain on their current trajectory they will achieve only a 23% cut by 2030.  However, a 40% reduction could be accomplished by increasing levels of efficiency, renewables and electrification, as outlined in a recent Synapse Report. What’s more, in the process they would generate nearly 60,000 jobs per year and save customers $25 billion a year.
 
A key policy for success requires the RGGI electric sector cap to fall 5% per year between 2020 and 2030, rather than the current 2½%/year, a reasonable target since it is the level the program has actually achieved since it began in 2009.

Dr. Stanton went on to describe the results of a brand new Synapse study that shows how Pennsylvania could achieve zero emissions by 2050.   
 
One Big Caveat
Our next speaker, Dr. Phil Duffy, President and Executive Director of the Wood Hole Research Center, a physicist who has devoted his career to the use of science in addressing climate change, gave us our dose of reality. He explained that even if we stopped all human emissions of carbon dioxide tomorrow, there are self-reinforcing processes that would continue to warm our planet with potentially catastrophic consequences. These include emissions from thawing permafrost; melting of the Greenland ice sheet; and the disintegration of major West Antarctic glaciers.
 
His conclusion: We need a lot of CO2 removal from the atmosphere.  How to do this is perhaps the greatest unsolved technical and policy problem in climate change. His potential solutions using biological removal of CO2 from the atmosphere include tropical forest restoration, restoring carbon to agricultural soils and restoration of coastal wetlands.