Climate Change Planning

Energy Efficiency HousesThe City Council adopted the Cambridge Climate Protection Plan in December 2002. Both the state and the city have adopted a goal of 80% reductions in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The city is completing a new plan with interim measures aimed at 2020.

The City's planning around climate change focuses on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. When Cambridge began to draft its initial Climate Protection Plan, staff evaluated the relative sizes of the various sources of emissions. The City already had extensive transportation and recycling programs that worked to reduce the community's generation of greenhouse gases. However, we found that most of our emissions are related to buildings, and we did not have programs to reduce building energy use. The Climate Protection Plan, therefore, focuses largely on actions around building-related energy. The Cambridge Energy Alliance was one important initiative. Other building energy initiatives target both existing buildings—much of the City’s building stock is relatively old and inefficient—and new construction, with more stringent energy efficiency requirements.

As the effect of existing human-derived greenhouse gases already present in the atmosphere has made climate disruption inevitable, Cambridge has concluded  that the city should begin to prepare now for the effects of climate change. With that goal in mind, the City has begun a climate vulnerability assessment. We anticipate that future action will involve both mitigation and adaptation to climate change.

Electric Vehicle Spot

Aspects of Cambridge Climate Change Planning

Climate Change Impact

Solar homeThe scale and complexity of the world’s interdependent climate, biological, geographic, economic, and cultural systems make it impossible to pinpoint the precise impacts of climate change on any particular place. Scientists predict the Northeast will be subject to water-related problems, with more intense rainfall, more vulnerability to major storms and hurricanes, and sea-level rise, which will exacerbate the impact of storms. At the same time, less winter precipitation and higher temperatures may mean more summer drought. Greater Boston is among the most vulnerable U.S. metropolitan areas for flooding from sea level rise.

Public health effects from longer allergy seasons, extreme heat, exacerbated air pollution, and the spread of vector-borne diseases such as Lyme Disease and West Nile Virus, are also of concern. The City is undertaking a study of our vulnerability to climate change, which is expected to be completed in 2013. Protection from sea level rise will require unprecedented cooperation among municipalities and is likely to be very expensive.

Along with local impacts, widespread disruption of the planet’s ecosystems will profoundly affect Cambridge. The costs of constructing an energy system that relies on renewable sources like the sun and wind and includes major energy conservation measures are small compared to the costs of dealing with the disruptions we will face if we fail to act.

Climate Protection Goals and CPAC

Central Square at night Credit: Eric KilbyThe scientific community advises that the world needs to achieve approximately 80 percent reductions in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 to avoid the most dangerous disruptions to our climate, and the City Council, following the lead of the Commonwealth, has adopted this goal. Take a look at the Cambridge Climate Protection Plan for details.

The Climate Protection Action Committee - CPAC - has looked at what that goal would mean, that is, what Cambridge will need to do in order to reduce emissions by 80 percent. They envision that we will have harnessed the capabilities of residents, businesses, and institutions to transform Cambridge into a city that:

  • Comprises energy efficient buildings
  • Relies on walking, bicycling, and transit for mobility
  • Runs on renewable and non-fossil fuel energy
  • Eliminates the generation of waste by closing material loops
  • Minimizes the urban heat island effect through increased vegetative cover and reduces heat-absorbing surfaces
  • Anticipates and adapts to the impacts of climate change
  • Is internationally recognized for climate change education
  • Is a center of entrepreneurship for climate change solutions

City staff and CPAC are developing objectives and actions that focus on a near-term target year of 2020 and move the city toward these long-tem goals. The 2020 target year is consistent with the Commonwealth’s near-term goal and is not so far off as to be made obsolete by technological and social changes. As circumstances develop, the goals and actions will evolve as well.

Many of the most immediate actions to mitigate climate change have other important benefits: less air pollution, lower energy costs, and a more verdant and healthier community.

Municipal Sustainability               

Climate Resilient Community

Climate change is happening faster than many climate scientists envisioned even a few years ago, adding to the urgency for taking action to adapt to its impacts. In the United States, much of the planning for adaptation is happening on the local level.

While planning for adaptation, it is important to continue to focus on mitigating climate change; there is much that can and should be done to reduce the impacts by dramatically reducing emissions. For many local efforts, actions to reduce emissions are also actions to adapt. For example, better-insulated homes can reduce energy use and help people be more comfortable in both hot and cold weather. Greater reliance on using travel modes other than driving alone may be especially important during major storms. White roofs reduce the need for building air conditioning and keep the city cooler.

Adaptation will mean reconfiguring infrastructure so that it can cope with more severe storms. Other efforts may range from planting more trees to absorb rainfall and cool the city, to providing heat shelters, to creating a community buddy system that encourages residents to develop networks of concern through which neighbors check up on each others’ well-being.

The City is conducting a vulnerability assessment to help guide adaptation planning. The assessment is expected to be completed by the end of 2013.

For More Information

For more information, contact John Bolduc at 617/349-4628 or