By: Kristin Kelleher, April 10th 2019
Cities are centers of commerce, culture and innovation, in fact,more than half of the world’s population lives in urban areas, a proportion expected to grow to 68 percent by 2050. Cities also account for more than 70 percent of global CO2 emissions, consuming over two-thirds of the world’s energy. Moreover, 90 percent of the world’s urban areas are along coastlines. Cities are the largest generators of greenhouse gas emissions, which cause climate change, and they will directly feel some of the most significant climate change impacts due to sea level rise. As climate change is expected to increase the frequency and intensity of weather events, hurricanes, erosion, and sea-level rise are already placing cities at risk from weather events due to climate change.
Last week two experts, Alisha Pegan of Climate Ready Boston and Jerry Tinianow, the Chief Sustainability Officer of the City of Denver sat down with us to share how Boston, Massachusetts and Denver, Colorado are developing public-private partnerships and working within their local communities to develop innovative solutions to take action on adaptation and mitigation strategies.
Each speaker highlighted their specific roles in city government. Please note that both cities (Denver and Boston) have adaptation and mitigation plans that you can further explore on their websites. You can also review the slides in the powerpoint we attached by Professor Cutler Cleveland, author of the Carbon Free Boston Report.
Alisha Pegan articulated the importance of collaboration beautifully, “We have to be doing carbon mitigation work. The reason why we are taking resilience action is because we are emitting greenhouse gases. I know I cannot do my job effectively without knowing there is a whole other department here working on Carbon Free Boston. There are many programs working on waste, energy, buildings, and transportation that the city is undertaking to reduce our carbon emissions.
We can see a huge range of sea level rise and coastal storms depending on what we emit, depending on the actions that we take and the world takes. We cannot have a conversation about resiliency without thinking of the root of the problem.”
Resilience Planning in Boston
The City of Boston has instituted a new program, Climate Ready Boston, an initiative to develop resilient solutions to prepare Boston for climate change impacts. They coordinate between different community parties, including local businesses, to ensure the city is resilient.
Alisha Pegan is the Climate Ready Coordinator of Climate Ready Boston. She relayed that “even if you are not right on the waterfront, there is a call to action to support those solutions that are on the waterfront. [These solutions] are protecting all of those businesses [that are close/ but not directly on the waterfront].”
In 2016 they developed the Climate Ready Boston Report, a vulnerability assessment that reviewed extreme temperatures, storms, sea-level rise and coastal storms, and the associated impacts for Boston. Alisha and the team have been collaborating with different departments across the city, with nonprofits and within the private sector to develop plans and district scale solutions that include protectable and floodable waterfront parks that expand the tree canopy.
“The program has sight specific to district to regional plans…[we are] looking at a variety of different measures to involve the community and develop further engagement [as well as] and tools for economic development for small businesses.”
One of these plans is the Resilient Boston Harbor Plan, aiming to redesign waterfront parks to create flood protection and improve access and recreation. It is a vision that is a summation of existing work, with plans to continue visioning into South Boston, East Boston, Charlestown, along with current plans in Downtown and Dorchester, creating a 47-mile long park system. It touches about 300+ different property owners, state and city-owned spaces.
Alisha highlighted that this type of living shoreline infrastructure will make Boston “a destination for waterfront parks but also an area of opportunity to provide protective resilient solutions to prevent flooding into the existing neighborhoods,” further encouraging economic development and security.
“We are really investing in nature-based solutions. Throughout [our] engagement during these neighborhood plans, we have really heard that people want to see soft edges and open spaces, they don’t want to see sea walls. They want to welcome and feel connected to the waterfront.”
If you, as a business leader in Boston, want to become more involved with city planning efforts, Alisha suggests you become involved in Greenovate Boston, the environment department’s arm for leadership and engagement, and check out the Boston Planning and Development Agency’s Climate Resiliency Checklist. It reviews green building codes and provides information on how buildings can be better able to withstand or recover quickly from projected flooding.
Sustainability in Denver
“We are a tourism-based economy [in Denver]. If we lose our snowpack, we lose a big part of our economy. You have to deal with these issues and engage with your business community.” – Jerry Tinianow
With Jerry Tinianow at the helm, the City of Denver is working with public and private groups to reach their emissions reductions goals. “ [In Denver] we don’t like to release goals until we have a plan for meeting them.” These targets are determined after significant research, and are not possible without collaboration.
Denver is on track to meet the goals listed below:
- By 2020: Reduce toal community and government operations emissions back to 1990 level
- By 2025: All electricity used by city government to be 100% renewable
- By 2026: Match or exceed Obama Administration 2026 reduction goals set under the Paris Climate Agreement (24% reduction)
- By 2030: 100% of electricity used by the community is renewable
- By 2050: Reduce total community emissions by 80% below 2005 total (80 x 50)
Jerry relayed how the City of Denver works closely with Xcel Energy, the investor-owned utility company that serves the Denver area. “[Partnership with Xcel] is the single greatest reason that we [Denver] are on track to meet all of those goals.”
Jerry shared how Colorado is the only state so far to adopt a renewable portfolio standard by a vote of the people and mentioned that their legislature increased the standard which is now 30% renewable electricity by 2020.
With the Xcel partnership, projections show that Denver will have “55% renewable electricity available by 2026 with no increase in electric rates, which is critical when you are dealing with equity issues in your community.”
Jerry also shared about Energize Denver, a program that requires large commercial buildings to benchmark their energy consumption, to report it publicly and receive a grade on their energy performance. This grade is published. Energize Denver began with buildings that were 50,000 square feet and above, now the program engages with businesses at 25,000 square feet or above. 90% participated in the first year of the program. They reduced their energy consumption by 4.5% in one year, collectively saving $13.5 million.
“Building owners and operators are very sensitive to these issues (encouraging sustainability and reducing emissions) once you bring them up, and they certainly liked saving $13.5 million.”
Municipal leaders are very much aware that the business community is a key stakeholder in meeting these goals. To encourage action, the City of Denver hosts the Sustainable Denver Summit. December 2019 will be the 5th summit held. Over the last four years this summit has encouraged businesses, nonprofits, academia, and government agencies to commit to specific actions to help the city meet their sustainability and climate change goals.
“We monitor the performance of all of these commitments, [and] we report to the community every year where we are on them. We have forums every month [to celebrate benchmarks that are met]. This is a tool that is unique among cities.” The City of Denver is taking a mentorship role for other cities interested in hosted sustainable summits. They are also waiting on approval to join the C40 cities, a global group of cities taking bold climate action, leading the way towards a healthier and more sustainable future.
The Importance of Mitigation and Resilience Planning in Tandem
“All of these numbers are secondary to the most important number of all which is the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, that, no city on its own can resolve. We work closely with cities around the US and around the world to coordinate these efforts.” – Jerry Tinianow
At this critical crossroads, we need cities to serve as leaders in this space and work to reduce emissions and build resilience. We now have greater insight into the planning process behind two leading cities.
While cities play an important role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, these environmental challenges cannot be conquered alone. Businesses need to partner across industries and with cities to deliver impact at a transformative scale.
You can also check out our recently released Businesses Acting on Rising Seas Report to hear more about how small businesses are taking action, and learn how you too can be more prepared and embrace sustainable practices.