From Boston to Beijing, signs of climate momentum

Austin Blackmon, Boston's chief of environment, energy and open space, and other experts discussed climate and energy at an event in Boston Monday, hosted by the Monitor in partnership with World Resources Institute.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor
Energy Editor David Unger (l.) speaks with Austin Blackmon, Boston's chief environment and energy official, at an event hosted by The Christian Science Monitor and World Resources Institute on September 14, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts.

In less than three months, representatives from nearly 200 countries will meet in Paris to finalize a climate agreement that many hope will curtail greenhouse gas emissions and curb the worst impacts of climate change.

How are leaders and thinkers across the globe – from Boston to Beijing – meeting the challenges posed by a warming planet, and embracing the opportunities of a global energy transformation?

In Boston Monday, several leaders addressed this question during "Local and Global Climate Action on the Path to Paris," an event hosted by The Christian Science Monitor together with World Resources Institute, a Washington-based think tank.

Joining the event were Austin Blackmon, the City of Boston's chief environment and energy official; Kelly Levin, a senior associate at the World Resources Institute; Valerie Karplus, assistant professor of global economics and management at the MIT Sloan School of Management; and Mindy Lubber, president of Ceres, a non-governmental organization that works to mobilize business leadership for a more sustainable world.

Watch the full video above, or check out our highlights from Monday’s event below:

Three Big Ideas:

  1. Cities are key 
    Currently 54 percent of the world’s population resides in urban areas, 70 percent of emissions come from these urban areas, and 90 percent of urban areas are in coastal regions, making them particularly susceptible to climate change, Chief Blackmon noted. “Cities are a very logical place to start when it comes to climate change action and climate change planning,” Mr. Blackmon said. While international agreements can be difficult to enforce, cities are going to be an important component of pushing for the agreement in Paris because citizens and local officials are pushing for action. “Cities, relative to nations and international groups, have enough economic and financial and political power; and citizens and residents who do experience these emissions and see more of their buildings and homes coming into contact with severe weather events ... have an appetite for cities to be these innovative hubs for climate action and for climate planning,” said Blackmon.
  2. New major emitters are emerging
    The emissions profiles of countries have changed significantly since the Kyoto protocol climate agreement of 1997, Kelly Levin of WRI stressed. Developed countries took on the majority of commitments in the aftermath of Kyoto, but the center of emissions growth has since shifted toward developing economies. China is now the largest emitter, and Indonesia, Mexico, South Africa, and India are all also major players. “Countries are right now submitting their climate change action plans for the post-2020 period, and we’re going to see a flurry of these climate action plans come out over the next few months before Paris. Where those land – and how far those get in terms of ambition – will drive the climate change negotiations in Paris,” Ms. Levin said. China, the speakers agreed, is a game changer. Last November, the world’s largest emitter committed to peak emissions by 2030.
  3. Big business gets carbon conscious
    Climate change impacts every sector of the economy, from finance, to insurance, to fossil fuels, to agriculture, to consumer goods products, said Mindy Lubber of Ceres. “We are seeing hundreds of Fortune 500 companies making commitments to reduce their carbon footprint by 25 percent, to double their investment in renewable energy, to [change] their products, to stand up on policy.” When President Obama announced the Clean Power Plan, a plan that requires the EPA to regulate utility companies and their emissions, Ms. Lubber said she was told that she could get no businesses to support the initiative. “In fact we got 325 businesses to support the President’s Clean Power Plan,” she said.

Two Notable Quotes:

The necessity – the urgency – to act on climate could not be more compelling. A must-do is to change this debate and to change the messengers. This is not about liberals; it’s not about blue states. This is about our future.” – Mindy Lubber, president of Ceres

China is incredibly important when it comes to mitigating global climate change, and any effort in Paris. To put things in perspective, China is today the world’s largest energy user and CO2 emitter, accounts for over a quarter of total global CO2 emissions.” – Valerie Karplus, assistant professor of global economics and management at the MIT Sloan School of Management

Tweet of the day:

[Editor's note: An editing error in the final quotation has been fixed to clarify that China is the world's largest energy user and CO2 emitter.]

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