Somerville’s Community Climate Change Plan

Somerville Climate Forward, Somerville’s first comprehensive climate change plan, is a set of implementable actions that will reduce Somerville’s contribution to climate change and prepare the City for the unavoidable impacts of climate change.

This plan includes policies, programs, and strategies that work to accomplish the following:

  • Reduce Somerville’s contribution to climate change and work towards carbon neutrality (mitigation)
  • Prepare Somerville for the unavoidable impacts of climate change (adaptation)
  • Fairly distribute the opportunities created by climate action and work to alleviate the unequal burdens of climate change (equity)
  • Be A Climate Forward Ambassador!

  • The Plan at a Glance

  • What is Somerville Climate Forward?

  • The Vision

  • Implementation

  • Next Steps

  • Complete Plan PDF

If you’re looking for an opportunity to learn something new, get more involved in your community, become a local leader, or meet new people, consider applying to become a Climate Forward Ambassador.

Climate Forward Ambassadors


Energy working group meetingSomerville Climate Forward, Somerville’s first comprehensive climate change plan, is a set of implementable actions that will reduce Somerville’s contribution to climate change and prepare the City for the unavoidable impacts of climate change. 

This plan includes policies, programs, and strategies that work to accomplish the following:

  • Reduce Somerville’s contribution to climate change and work towards carbon neutrality (mitigation)
  • Prepare Somerville for the unavoidable impacts of climate change (adaptation)
  • Fairly distribute the opportunities created by climate action and work to alleviate the unequal burdens of climate change (equity)

These actions build on the work that is already being done across the City to advance sustainability and climate resilience. The plan represents the next step of a multi-year planning process that began with Mayor Joseph Curtatone’s commitment to making Somerville carbon neutral, or having a net-zero release of GHG emissions, by 2050, and has included development of the City’s first Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Inventory (2016), the Carbon Neutral Pathways Assessment (2017), and the Somerville Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment (2017)

Somerville Climate Forward identifies opportunities for near-term action across different sectors, including buildings, mobility, natural environment, community, and leadership. 

This plan is the framework for how we will collectively take action on climate change in Somerville over the next 5-10 years. These actions won’t get us all the way to carbon neutrality, but they are the critical first steps on the pathway to meeting our long-term goals.

Donut chart of GHG emissions from 2014 show 65% from buildings, 32% from transportation, 3% from waste.Climate change is one of the most serious challenges of our time, and there is no doubt that our dependence on fossil fuels is to blame. The good news is that because we know what the problem is, we also know what we need to do to solve it. It won’t be easy, but preventing climate change from causing catastrophic impacts is achievable if we take action together. 

Climate change presents an urgent agenda for cities, as it is a cumulative process that is already impacting day-to-day life. The longer we take to reduce emissions, the more severe the impacts will be, making it more difficult and expensive to prepare and rebound from these impacts. Even more, Somerville and our region have among the highest energy costs in the country, and our dependence on fossil fuels also creates uncertainty for our economy and security.   he time to act is now. 

An implementation-driven approach to addressing climate change will allow the City to simultaneously prepare for impacts while taking action to reduce the GHG emissions that cause climate change. Early actions on reducing or mitigating GHG emissions are important to lower the cumulative emissions released into the atmosphere. Early actions are also important for strategies where implementation of GHG reducing programs will take decades. For example, switching heating systems in all Somerville buildings from natural gas or oil to electric or renewable systems will take significant, sustained effort over decades. 

We as cities have a responsibility to do this now. Cities are responsible for 70% of global GHG emissions and will be forced to contend with the localized impacts of climate change. Somerville is part of a growing cohort of cities committed to climate action. 

In 2014, Mayor Joseph Curtatone committed to achieving carbon neutrality in Somerville by 2050. And as chairman of the Metro Mayors Coalition, he led the 15 municipalities that comprise the coalition in pledging to make the Boston region carbon neutral by 2050. He has also signed onto the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy and Climate Mayors, committing to upholding the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement. In 2017, the Board of Aldermen passed a resolution to affirm the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement. Somerville’s leaders and community are ready to take action. This plan is an important step toward making those goals a reality.

If we fully implement the plan actions, we should get to 49% of our 2050 goal by 2030, and 79% by 2050.

The City’s climate change analysis provides us with a strong, science-based foundation on which to create an action plan.

The 2017 Somerville Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment identifies our top risks in an environment that has changed due to man-made climate change.

In many ways, climate change will intensify impacts that Somerville is already experiencing, such as heat waves and flooding from intense rainstorms. Over the last year, respondents to the Somerville Climate Forward survey noted that they have observed longer and warmer summers in Somerville, as well as an increase in extreme weather, particularly intense rainstorms. 

Climate change will also present new impacts from sea level rise and storm surge along the Mystic River, which the City has not experienced in the past. Somerville’s Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment prompted the City to include actions that reduce climate change risks to the most vulnerable people, infrastructure assets, and natural resources as part of this plan. We will need to adapt to these new and evolving risks, while also finding solutions to minimize our contribution to climate change.

The 2016 Greenhouse Gas Inventory was Somerville’s first rigorous analysis of the source of our climate-change causing emissions.  

Approximately two-thirds of Somerville’s GHG emissions come from buildings, one third from transportation, and 3% from waste disposal. To reach our goal of being carbon neutral by 2050, we will have to eliminate nearly all of our emissions from buildings, energy, transportation, and waste.

As a follow-on to the GHG inventories, the Carbon Neutrality Pathway Assessment identified a few key priorities for reducing emissions: switching to 100% renewable electricity, switching from fossil fuels to electric or renewable systems in vehicles and for heating, and improving energy efficiency in new and existing buildings. When we implement the actions in this plan, we are beginning the big transformations that need to take place in order to achieve carbon neutrality.

In the past several years, Somerville has already initiated many efforts to reduce City and community emissions and to prepare for climate change impacts. For example:

  • ­Somerville is a designated Massachusetts Green Community and has reduced municipal energy use by 15% in four years. 
  • ­Somerville Energy Efficiency Now (SEEN) launched in fall 2015 to increase resident and landlord adoption of energy efficiency measures that are incentivized through State programs.
  • ­The HeatSmart/CoolSmart campaign in 2017-18 increased awareness of efficient air-source heat pumps, with systems installed in over 60 homes. 
  • ­The City of Somerville was awarded SolSmart Gold by the US Department of Energy in 2017, the first municipality in Massachusetts to receive that designation. This followed the successful 2016 Solarize Somerville campaign, which led to the installation of over 100 solar arrays on Somerville homes.  
  • ­Somerville has been an ardent advocate for the Green Line Extension and is contributing $50 million to the project, which will be critical for reducing personal vehicle trips and transportation emissions.  
  • The City’s Pavement and Sidewalk Management Program, with a recurring $1 million/year in targeted improvements, is gradually upgrading pedestrian areas for people of all physical abilities. 
  • ­The City has worked hard to make biking safer through street design, bike lanes, and education, and has been named a Gold level Bicycle Friendly Community by the Bicycle League of America. 
  • ­Somerville became a Massachusetts Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness (MVP) Program designated community and received a $350,000 MVP action grant in 2018 to plan for built and natural stormwater management solutions. 
  • ­The City is carrying out a $40 million project - with a 2016 $13 million grant from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts - to support sewer and water infrastructure upgrades in Union Square in order to alleviate strains on the existing stormwater infrastructure. Recently redesigned public parks have also been designed to slow and store stormwater on site. 
  • ­The City increased the use of electric vehicles in the municipal fleet and installed seven public electric vehicle charging stations with free power. 
  • The City of Somerville maintains over 12,000 public trees and in 2018 received the Tree City USA Growth Award for demonstrating environmental improvement and a higher level of tree care.

With this plan, the City of Somerville will continue to consider climate change in decision making and will strive to make climate change a key consideration in all major planning, policy, and programs decisions.

The Somerville community has a long-standing and passionate interest in climate change, with numerous community groups working on issues related to climate change mitigation and adaptation. Somerville Climate Forward has been developed with significant participation of residents, community organizations, regional partners, and City government departments. Over 180 people responded to the Somerville Climate Forward survey or spoke with City staff at outreach events, sharing observations of how the climate in Somerville is changing, how they respond to extreme weather, and what they would like to see in a carbon neutral and climate resilient future. In addition, over 75 residents and stakeholders joined City staff on nine action area-focused working groups to provide advice and guidance throughout the plan development process. Ideas and recommendations raised in survey responses and by the working groups helped to inform the actions that are detailed in this plan. The Commission on Energy Use and Climate Change (CEUCC) provided project guidance.

The actions in Somerville Climate Forward leverage existing efforts and identify new opportunities to increase resilience and reduce emissions within City government and the community. They were developed and prioritized in a four-step approach, which included:

  1. Research of best-practice solutions implemented in other cities – both national and international; 
  2. Evaluation of potential solutions through initial screening of their potential impact; 
  3. Prioritization of solutions using a structured framework that assessed the benefits and feasibility of the proposed actions, e.g. How great is the financial cost? Are there programs or funds that could support it?
  4. Development of detailed plans, including implementation strategy, for each action.

Somerville Climate Forward is different from other climate action plans because the planning process was designed to result in an implementable plan. Hundreds of possible solutions were considered, and through an iterative process, were narrowed down to 22 priority actions.

With the issuance of Somerville Climate Forward, the City presents a robust and implementable climate change action plan. Presented in this report are:

The priority action areas were selected based on their ability to solve a key issue identified by either the Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment or the Pathways to Carbon Neutrality Study. The specific priority action was selected based on the impact it can have, the co-benefits it can provide, the feasibility of implementing it in Somerville, and by asking working groups, technical experts, City staff, and regional partners:  what do we need to do to get started addressing this problem? 

The focus of this plan is to make a difference now. The actions are intended to be initiated within 5 years. Some of the actions will take longer to complete than others. In five years, the plan will be revisited in order to reassess priorities and identify new action areas.

Achieving our climate goals will require all hands on deck. Everyone has a role to play in making a carbon neutral and climate resilient future a reality. No matter how small, all of our actions add up to more than the sum of the parts.

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  1. Talk to your family and friends about climate change and why taking action matters to you.
  2. Make a preparedness kit for extreme weather and make a plan with your family or roommates.
  3. Find ways to reduce energy usage at home. Start with a no-cost MassSave Home Energy Assessment. Contact Somerville’s Housing Division for information on home energy and environmental programs.
  4. If you own your home, consider installing an air source heat pump, updating your insulation, or putting solar on your roof.
  5. If you rent or own, consider opting-up to 100% renewable electricity through the Somerville CCE program.
  6. Ride the bus, walk, take the T, bike. Choose to go car-free.
  7. Calculate your household’s carbon footprint and choose one way to cut back.
  8. Reduce your water usage or install a rain barrel to capture stormwater runoff.
  9. Advocate for climate action.

Our vision for a climate forward Somerville is thriving, equitable, carbon neutral, and resilient city.

Somerville's actions on climate change must strive to achieve all four of these elements in order to ensure that Somerville remains a diverse, creative, and exceptional place to live.Long range goals

Somerville Climate Forward’s long-range goals are aligned with the priorities identified in the City’s climate analysis studies (GHG Inventories, the Carbon Neutrality Pathways Assessment, and the Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment), and they are built on the foundation of the community vision and goals in SomerVision, the City’s comprehensive plan. The goals describe what outcomes need to be achieved in order to fully realize the Somerville Climate Forward vision.

Somerville Climate Forward is structured to provide integrated, actionable solutions that work towards the goals. Implementing the plan will require a joint effort from the City, key stakeholders, and residents. To help establish working relationships among these groups, the vision and long-range goals were reviewed and discussed at the first public meeting held in June 2017 and then further developed with the Somerville Climate Forward working groups. Reaching these goals will be a long and iterative process. This plan is an important step on that journey, but future planning and additional actions will be needed to achieve these goals in Somerville.

Green city illustration by Mike Powers

 

Somerville Climate Forward is a plan about taking action now. It lays the foundation for tracking progress and celebrating success. The implementation steps associated with the priority actions identified in the previous section were designed to be actionable today, with achievements and milestones mapped out for different points in the future. This reinforces the City’s strong commitment towards climate action and reflects input from a diverse group of stakeholders who participated in developing the plan. The implementation timeline shows which actions are being started immediately and how long the City anticipates it will take to complete the majority of the steps outlined in each priority action. Some actions are discrete projects that will take less time to complete and some are ongoing initiatives that will continue to evolve over the years. There may be additional steps for an action that will help advance its impact which are not included in this simplified timeline. Progress on all actions will be tracked annually and actions will be evaluated after five years to determine if they have met their goals and to ensure they have not led to unintended consequences. This evaluation will provide an opportunity to adapt and add actions to incorporate the latest climate science, technological developments, policy changes, leadership commitments, and community priorities. After five years, it is expected that many actions will be complete and new priority climate actions will need to be selected.

Somerville Climate Forward timeline thumbnail. View linked PDF for full info.

Somerville Climate Forward is a comprehensive climate action plan that sets forward an agenda of priority actions that can achieve both climate change mitigation and adaptation. The combined effect of these actions will be to reduce local GHG emissions and to adapt to projected flooding and extreme heat events in the future. The chart to the right illustrates how each of the plan’s priority actions address the four impact areas of GHG reduction, flooding, extreme heat, and equity. As described throughout this plan, the City wants to ensure that the combined benefits of taking action are shared by all residents. Many of the actions outlined in the plan present opportunities to protect and enhance the wellbeing of Somerville communities. The City is also committed to tracking the success of this plan by its impact on equity in our community. All of the actions in this plan were designed with equity in mind; actions marked with an Equity Impact are expected to have an observable impact on balancing the burdens and opportunities of climate across our community’s population.

Somerville Climate Forward impact chart thumbnail. View linked PDF for full info.

The chart to the right summarizes the total GHG reduction impact of the plan’s quantifiable priority actions. The reduction opportunities are primarily from Buildings, Mobility, and Community actions, and target the greatest emissions sources in the city. Action Areas 1 and 2 reduce building energy emissions by improving energy efficiency in existing buildings, promoting fuel switching in building systems to clean electricity, and supporting net-zero new building construction. Combined, these actions provide 30% of the reductions needed to achieve the City’s 2050 carbon neutrality goal. Actions 3 and 4 reduce transportation emissions by increasing transit use and active mobility options (e.g., walking, biking) and electrifying vehicles in the community. These actions provide 21% of the reductions needed in 2050. Action 9 reduces emissions by providing access to 100% clean electricity, the effects of which are amplified through the actions to further electrify building systems and vehicles. This action is responsible for 19% of the total reductions needed. The remaining reductions in the plan come from minimizing fugitive natural gas emissions (Action 12), improving waste diversion practices (Action 7), and leading by example in new municipal building design (Action 11). These actions provide an additional 9% of reductions toward the 2050 goal. The sum of all quantifiable actions in the plan can reduce emissions in 2050 by nearly 80%.

Somerville Climate Forward progress chart thumbnail. View linked PDF for full info.

 

The Office of Sustainability and Environment will be responsible for overseeing the implementation of the plan, and for ensuring it stays up-to-date with the latest climate science, technologies, and community trends. Progress on implementation of the priority actions in Somerville Climate Forward and their related steps will be reported annually as part of SustainaVille, the City’s platform for reporting on GHG reduction and resiliency initiatives.88

Climate change is a global issue that cannot be solved in isolation by the City of Somerville, its residents, or its many engaged stakeholders. Fostering partnerships and strengthening regional collaboration initiatives will play a pivotal role in achieving the ambitious goals established and ensuring the continued success of Somerville Climate Forward. The City will continue to play an active role in regional organizations, such as the Metro Mayors Climate Preparedness Task Force; in State-led resiliency and carbon neutrality initiatives, such as the Green Communities Program; and engaging the community with existing and new programs such as the recommended SustainaVille Leaders Program (detailed in Action Area 10 of this plan).

Although the City cannot take on this charge alone, it can create policies and programs that make it easier for everyone in Somerville to take action. Our success will ultimately be determined by Somerville’s residents', businesses', and institutions' commitment to this plan. Across our community, small daily choices and behaviors can add up to a big impact. Through simple actions, such as installing home energy retrofits and decisions like walking instead of driving, we can collectively contribute to a reduction in GHG emissions and help do our part to improve the resilience of Somerville’s built, natural, economic, and social systems. We hope you join us in working to move Somerville forward.