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Climate Action on the City Level: How Do Boston and L.A. Compare?

Climate Change search, White House Website, Washington, DC, USA

The new White House has left only three mentions of "climate" on its website, including two that have nothing to do with climate change and one that calls President Obama's Climate Action Plan an "unnecessary" policy (more on the website turnover). What is not unnecessary is preparing ourselves for severe storms, cleaning up pollution, keeping energy and water bills affordable and planning for the future. That is what our cities are doing – whether the President cares to acknowledge it as "climate action" or not, Mayors, urban designers, residents, and businesses are working together to rethink how our cities, suburbs and rural communities operate.

As a former resident of Los Angeles and new transplant to the Boston metro area, I have witnessed the leadership of both city governments in acting on clean energy, efficient building design and low carbon transportation. Mayor Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles and Mayor Marty Walsh of Boston are both members of global leadership networks including the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group and the Compact of Mayors and have signed on to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and collaborate on strategies to achieve shared climate goals. At the 2017 U.S. Conference of Mayors January meeting, Garcetti and Walsh agreed that "for many mayors, climate action is not the partisan issue it has become at the federal level." While the U.S. Federal Government is an important player in achieving global climate goals, cities are pushing forward regardless of the White House's position.

Boston and Los Angeles Climate Action & Sustainability Plans

Both chief executives of these respective coastal cities wholly accept the responsibility local communities have in protecting inhabitants from the instability of a changing climate. Whether managing water resources during a 5+ year drought or preparing the city for sea level rise in the coming decades, Mayors Garcetti and Walsh are wasting no time in getting to work. Each city is guided by their own climate action plan: the Sustainable City pLAn for the City of Angels and Greenovate Boston for Beantown.

For Boston, sea-level rise and flood risk are critical concerns of the city's development strategy. Faneuil Hall, the historic marketplace built in 1743 for example, now floods at 5 feet above today's high tides and is just one of many areas particularly vulnerable to flooding and extreme coastal weather. Whether the city will retreat from the coast or design flexible infrastructure to deal with water in a new way, planning for Boston's future in the face of sea-level rise is an urgent matter. Preparing for sea-level rise and extreme weather is dependent on our ability to manage critical resources and stabilize the climate, particularly through measures that reduce greenhouse gas emissions. These objectives are unachievable by working independently and thus require effort across all cities and nations.

Faneuil Hall, Boston, Massachusetts, USA

Here are a few key climate goal comparisons for Boston and L.A.:

Boston and Los Angeles Climate Action Comparison Infographic

Each plan details action items in different ways, yet what stands out is the quantitative specificity laid out in the Los Angeles pLAn. Metrics for each topic, including food, waste, buildings, water and transportation, make updates and benchmarking more transparent and easy to follow for residents, businesses and others interested in city-wide progress. While Boston does not have as many quantitative metrics as Los Angeles, it does include descriptive action items for all goals and targets.

A few elements in these plans resonated with me: 1) both cities underscore 'leading by example' and include targets for city-owned vehicles and buildings within broader climate goals; 2) both advocate for distributed energy and water resources to improve disaster preparedness and resiliency; 3) both recognize the importance of housing, with Boston more focused on increasing the residency rate to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from commuters, and Los Angeles more focused on housing affordability.

What metrics are you most interested in? Are any of these objectives similar to those of your city? What are key challenges you see in achieving climate action goals? Leave your thoughts and questions in the comments section below!

Credits: Images by Alyssa Curran. Data linked to sources.