Somerville Climate Forward: Somerville’s Community Climate Change Plan

To prepare for and reduce the effects of climate change, Somerville is developing a comprehensive climate change plan called Somerville Climate Forward. The strategies that will make up this plan will further two key goals: 

  • To decrease Somerville’s contribution to climate change by reducing the collective carbon emissions of both the City and its residents.
  • To prepare Somerville to thrive amid the potential impacts of climate change such as storms, flooding, and heatwaves.

The development of Somerville Climate Forward is the culminating stage of a multi-year climate change planning process.

 

Climate change process: 1) Conduct baseline studies 2) Analysis and strategies 3) Somerville Climate Forward Climate: Change Plan 4) Community outreach

 

Where are we now?

☑ Conduct baseline greenhouse gas (GHG) inventory
 Assess local and regional climate change vulnerabilities
 Map possible pathways to carbon neutrality by 2050
 Develop actionable, integrated solutions in a comprehensive Climate Change Plan (ongoing)

  • Somerville Climate Forward

  • Baseline

  • Analysis & Strategies

  • Somerville Climate Forward Survey

  • Frequently Asked Questions

Somerville Climate Forward, Somerville’s comprehensive climate change plan, will develop short- and medium-term strategies to reduce Somerville’s contribution to climate change and prepare Somerville for the unavoidable impacts of climate change. These strategies will build on the work that is already being done across the city to advance sustainability and resilience by identifying opportunities for action across sectors, including buildings, energy supply, green space and natural environment, utilities and infrastructure, transportation, consumption and waste, health, education, and community and economic development. 

Community Meetings

The kick-off meeting for Somerville Climate Forward was held on June 26, 2017. Approximately 100 people attended the meeting and shared ideas through small group discussions.

Missed the meeting? You can watch the full video of the kick-off meeting or read the  meeting minutes to get up to speed. Slides from the meeting can be found here.

In-Depth Baseline Meetings

We held two meetings in August to go in-depth into the results of the three studies that serve as the baseline for Somerville Climate Forward. The first meeting covered the results of the Greenhouse Gas Inventory and Carbon Neutrality Pathway Assessment. Slides from the meeting can be found here. The second meeting reviewed the results of Somerville’s Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment. Slides from the meeting can be found here.

Working Groups

Over 75 residents, stakeholders, and subject matter experts have joined nine topic-focused working groups to provide advice and feedback on possible strategies for Somerville Climate Forward. Ideas and recommendations raised by the working groups will help to inform the solutions that are developed and detailed in the plan. Notes from the working groups will be posted below.

  • Health and Wellbeing
  • Energy
  • Natural Systems
  • Transportation
  • Buildings
  • Education and Outreach
  • Community and Economic Development
  • Consumption and Waste
  • Utilities and Infrastructure

Want to Get Involved?

We want to hear from residents and stakeholders about what is important to prioritize in Somerville Climate Forward. Here are some ways to get involved:

Volunteer

There will be volunteer opportunities to assist with outreach during the process. If you are interested in volunteering, please email Hannah Payne at [email protected].

Stay Informed

  • Updates on Somerville Climate Forward will be shared via the SustainaVille Newsletter. Sign up at the bottom of this page.
  • Follow us on Facebook to get updates right in your newsfeed.
  • Attend Commission on Energy Use and Climate Change meetings. These meetings are open to the public and are a great way to stay informed on Somerville Climate Forward and other climate and sustainability initiatives in the city. The CEUCC meets on the second Wednesday of each month at 7pm at the Tufts Administration Building.

Somerville Climate Forward Team

The Office of Sustainability and Environment is leading this initiative and is working closely with a consulting team led by the firms Kleinfelder and AECOM. The consultant team was selected by the City through a competitive process and is providing technical support for this project.

 

As the first step, we measured our present energy use and assessed the expected challenges that climate change could bring:

Greenhouse Gas Inventory

The Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Inventories detail the emissions for all of Somerville as well as the subset of emissions that are from city government operations. The first GHG Inventory was completed using 2014 data. A second inventory was completed with 2016 data to track change over time.

Somerville produces 609,565 metric tons of GHG per year.

Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment

In addition to understanding how Somerville contributes to climate change, we also want to know how climate change is likely to impact Somerville. The Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment analyzes risks from sea level rise and storm surge, increasing temperatures, and precipitation-based flooding and identifies key priorities for Somerville to focus on in order to reduce climate-related risks.

Climate change will intensify some impacts that Somerville is already experiencing, such as precipitation-based flooding and heat waves. Climate change will also increase the risk of flooding along the Mystic River during severe storms. The City of Somerville is already taking action to reduce some of these threats, including making significant stormwater infrastructure improvements in Union Square and collaborating with the City of Boston’s plans to reduce flooding risk at the Schrafft Center—a primary flood pathway for Charlestown and Somerville.

The information in the Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment will help us make future decisions that can reduce risks to climate impacts within Somerville and within our region. The results of this study will be used to develop strategies in Somerville Climate Forward to improve resilience in Somerville and to adapt to the changing climate.

Analysis and Strategies

After completing the 2014 Greenhouse Gas Inventory, we analyzed strategies to map a possible pathway to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 in order to understand what it might take to reach that goal. The Carbon Neutrality Pathway Assessment analyzes the technological transformations necessary to achieve this emissions reduction target, through the implementation of policies and programs. Somerville Climate Forward will be using this analysis as a jumping off point to identify the most feasible policies, programs, and measures for Somerville to implement in order to reduce citywide carbon emissions.

The table below shows the key strategies to lower carbon emissions that were identified in the Carbon Neutrality Pathway Assessment. These strategies and targets for emissions reductions represent one way Somerville could work towards carbon neutrality. Actual reduction targets and strategies that the City of Somerville will implement will be set by Somerville Climate Forward.

Strategy

Emissions Reduction Potential (MT CO2e/Year)

% of 2050 reductions

2020

2030

2050

Lower-Carbon Electricity  (Community choice aggregation & Renewable Portfolio Standard)

98,000

167,000

248,000

29%

Building Energy Efficiency

23,000

49,000

77,000

9%

Building Energy Fuel Switching (from natural gas and oil to electric heating)

31,000

81,000

88,400

10%

District Energy

26,000

55,000

131,000

15%

Paper and Plastic Waste Diversion

7,000

10,000

13,000

2%

Transit Oriented/Mixed Use Development

3,000

8,000

20,000

2%

Passenger Mode Shift  (from single occupancy vehicles to transit and walk/bike)

8,000

42,000

54,000

6%

Vehicle Fuel Switching  (passenger - fossil fuels to electric)

16,000

56,000

161,000

19%

Vehicle Fuel Switching  (trucks - diesel to biodiesel)

30,000

34,000

42,000

5%

Vehicle Fuel Switching  (off-road - diesel to biodiesel)

3,000

8,000

20,000

2%

 

Interested in learning more? Check out the full Carbon Neutrality Pathway Assessment report.

In Summer 2017, the Office of Sustainability and Environment released a survey to gather resident feedback on:

  • Changes to Somerville’s climate that longtime residents have observed
  • What a carbon neutral future in Somerville might look like
  • How residents cope with extreme weather events (such as extreme rainfall or a heatwave)
  • Other ideas/measures that should be considered by Somerville Climate Forward
  • And more

The questions below were taken from responses to the Somerville Climate Forward survey. If you have additional questions or ideas about planning for climate change in Somerville, please share your thoughts by contacting us.

Somerville Climate Forward Process

How is Mayor Curtatone involved in Somerville Climate Forward?

In 2014 Mayor Curtatone set the goal for Somerville to be carbon neutral by 2050 and launched SustainaVille to work towards carbon neutrality and to prepare for the impacts climate change. Mayor Curtatone has also joined the Global Covenant of Mayors on Climate & Energy and Climate Mayors, committing to climate action and upholding the greenhouse gas reduction targets of the Paris Climate Agreement. The Mayor’s commitments have made Somerville a leading city in the country addressing climate change.  He has been involved in the Somerville Climate Forward planning process from the beginning and continues to be engaged in the development of the plan.

How will the recommendations arising from the working group meetings translate into concrete actions?

Over 75 residents and city staff sit on nine topic-specific working groups for Somerville Climate Forward. The working groups developed many of the hundreds of solutions that were then researched and prioritized by the consulting team. The working groups will provide feedback on the set of priority recommended solutions along with city staff and other stakeholders to make the solutions work within Somerville’s unique context. The final plan will include a set of clear and actionable solutions that will reduce Somerville’s greenhouse gas emissions and help the community prepare for a changing climate.

How effective will a community of 80,000 be in making progress on climate change? How is Somerville helping nationally? How will Somerville work together with neighboring cities to address this problem and not make our climate plan inside a bubble?

Somerville may be a small city but our actions on climate change matter. Climate change is a collective problem that requires collective action. Every country, city, town, business, and family needs to be making efforts to reduce their contribution to climate change—Somerville is no exception. At the same time, we think it is important to not tackle climate change on our own.   Somerville is very active in the Metro Mayors Coalition, a coalition of the 14 Boston-Metro municipal chief executives. In 2015 Somerville joined the Metro Mayors Climate Preparedness Taskforce and in 2016, Mayor Curtatone led the adoption of the Metro Mayors Climate Mitigation Commitment, in which the 14 communities have all adopted a goal to be carbon neutral by 2050. Outside of the Boston region, the City of Somerville collaborates with cities through the Urban Sustainability Directors Network, Climate Mayors, and the Global Covenant of Mayors. Through these platforms we are able to share best practices from our work and to collaborate on projects and to learn and borrow from other cities.

How will this climate plan be communicated to residents and businesses?

The Somerville Climate Forward process and plan will be documented in a final report and website. The actions in the plan will be communicated to residents, businesses, and stakeholders through many channels of communication used by the City of Somerville, including meetings, press engagement, social media, Somerville Community Access Television, community events, workshops, and more. Achieving our climate change goals will require participation across the Somerville community, so communication, outreach, and education will be critical to implementing the plan and making Somerville Climate Forward a success. There is also a Somerville Climate Forward working group focused on education and outreach that will be identifying additional ways to communicate the plan to the Somerville community.  And, of course, there’s word of mouth—tell your family, friends, and colleagues about Somerville Climate Forward!

Carbon Neutral by 2050 Goal

How could Somerville reach its goal to be carbon neutral in 2050?

In 2017 the Office of Sustainability and Environment published a Pathways to Carbon Neutrality Assessment, which details a potential pathway to achieve carbon neutrality using existing technologies and policies. Some of the major steps towards carbon neutrality include 100% renewable electricity, electrification of building heating systems and personal vehicles, energy efficiency, and district energy. The pathway is hypothetical and ambitious but theoretically feasible. However, the Pathways Report is not a plan for action. Somerville Climate Forward will identify the policies, programs, and projects that will be implemented to begin to work towards the transformations identified in the Pathways Report.

What challenges will Somerville face in pursuing net zero carbon emissions?

Achieving carbon neutrality will require transformations in our buildings and transportation systems in order to phase out the use of natural gas, gasoline, diesel, and non-renewable electricity. This will not be easy. Carbon neutrality cannot be achieved by city government action alone, and will require community advocacy and participation in programs. Some of the big challenges include cost and the rate at which changes are made to existing buildings and transportation systems. State and federal policies, like a carbon tax or stricter building codes, could help to enable these transitions. Because of this, advocating for changes at higher levels of government will be a component of Somerville Climate Forward.  

What is Somerville planning to do to reach its goal?

Using the analysis from the Pathways to Carbon Neutrality Assessment, Somerville Climate Forward will set the agenda for the short and medium term actions to work towards the goals of being carbon neutral by 2050 and climate resilient.

Why was 2050 chosen as the target date for carbon neutrality? Shouldn’t we be reaching carbon neutrality sooner?

The 2050 carbon neutrality goal was set based on scientific consensus on the magnitude of emission reductions required to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, which research suggests is needed to avoid the most adverse impacts of climate change. Somerville has set a net-zero carbon neutrality goal, which means reducing community-wide emissions as much as possible (and as quickly as possible) and only offsetting the small amount of emissions that might be impossible to eliminate fully (i.e. wastewater emissions). Achieving net zero emissions by 2050 is an ambitious but achievable goal. Theoretically, carbon neutrality could be achieved sooner if the city invested more heavily in offsets outside of our community, but that would mean we would be spending taxpayer dollars outside of our community instead of making improvements within our own community.

Climate Change Impacts

How is Somerville preparing for flooding, both during extreme weather events like hurricanes and due to more gradual but permanent water level rise? Since so much of Somerville is hilly, will sea level rise impact the city as much as Cambridge or Boston?

The City of Somerville completed a Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment in order to understand the future risks and vulnerabilities related to both acute storm events and more prolonged changes. The Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment is based on the best available local climate models, and shows that Somerville is primarily vulnerable to coastal and inland flooding during large storm events. Because of Somerville’s geography, there is little risk of flooding from high tides alone. However, during low probability but high-intensity storms (like hurricanes), the combination of sea level rise and storm surge would cause flooding in areas of East Somerville, Assembly Square, Ten Hills, and Winter Hill. Heavy rain storms can also cause flooding in more areas of the city. Climate change is causing more precipitation to fall during rain storms, therefore increasing the risk of inland flooding during rain events. Increasing temperatures is a more gradual but permanent change that Somerville also needs to prepare for, as the number of days over 90 degrees is expected to increase each summer. The City is developing strategies to adapt to climate change and reduce climate related vulnerabilities in Somerville Climate Forward.

It would be useful to know which areas are flood prone due to underground water, low elevation or other factors.
Somerville’s Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment includes maps that show which areas of the city are more vulnerable to flooding from coastal storm events and from precipitation based flooding.

How will climate change affect the greater Boston region?

In Somerville, we are closely connected to our neighboring cities. Many Somerville residents work or go to school outside of Somerville, so our resilience as a city is dependent on our resilience as a region. Thankfully, this is an issue that the region is working on together. The Boston metro region has been convening to address regional climate impacts through the Metro Mayors Climate Preparedness Taskforce and many of our neighboring cities have been proactively taking steps to prepare for climate change. Boston has completed the Climate Ready Boston report, which details the city’s top climate risks and identifies key preparedness interventions. The City of Boston has also committed to implementing the first resiliency projects to reduce climate related risks in East Boston and Charlestown. Cambridge has also completed climate change vulnerability assessments and is moving forward with neighborhood level climate change resilience planning. The City of Somerville has served on advisory groups for both Cambridge and Boston’s climate change work and continues to be an active participant in the Metro Mayors Climate Preparedness Taskforce.

How can the City finance infrastructure improvements that are necessary to respond to climate change?

Somerville Climate Forward will identify the key intervention areas for mitigating and adaptation to climate change. Some of these actions will be within the City’s jurisdiction and some will be outside the City’s jurisdiction, requiring advocacy and collaboration with neighboring cities and state agencies. Municipal financing will not be the right fit for all projects, and we must identify options to make infrastructure improvements in manner that maintains the City’s excellent financial position.

How is the city planning for response and education for its most vulnerable residents, such as elderly, public housing residents, and non-English speaking residents?

Climate change will not impact everyone equally and some residents will have an easier time responding to climate change than others. The Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment highlights the need to provide assistance to vulnerable populations, including the elderly, young, disabled, residents with limited English proficiency, and low-income residents, particularly those who live within flood prone areas and/or who do not live in weatherized and air conditioned housing. The City of Somerville already has emergency preparedness plans in place, which include communication through the Council on Aging and in Spanish, Portuguese, and Haitian Creole through SomerViva. Somerville Climate Forward is looking at whether the City’s emergency plans need to be adapted to prepare for new emergency scenarios brought on by climate change. Through Somerville Climate Forward, we are also exploring programmatic and policy solutions beyond emergency response to help vulnerable populations prepare for climate change. 

Taking Action Today

What steps can we take to better protect our environment?

The SustainaVille Sustainability Guide offers 12 things you can do to take action on climate change and protect our environment. The City of Somerville also offers a 100% renewable electricity option through the Community Choice Electricity Program. If you are willing and able to pay a little more on your electricity bill each month, you can source your electricity from 100% local renewable sources. If you typically pay $100 per month on electricity the additional cost would be around $15 per month. You can sign up at www.somervillecce.com.

What can homeowner's do (especially seniors without much money)?

Somerville Energy Efficiency Now is a program of the Office of Strategic Planning and Community Development’s Housing Division to connect homeowners and renters with energy efficiency and clean energy options. Homeowners and renters can get a no-cost Home Energy Assessment through Mass Save, which will help reduce energy consumption in your home and help you save money on your utility bills. A home energy assessment can also identify additional energy saving opportunities for homeowners, like weatherization or upgrades to your heating systems. The Mass Save program and the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center offer numerous rebates and loans for energy saving and clean energy upgrades to homes. Somerville Climate Forward will identify additional programs targeted to homeowners and renters.

What can renters do? How will Somerville Climate Forward incentivize landlords?

Renters can do a few things today to take action on climate change. First, renters can choose to source all of their electricity from renewable sources through the City of Somerville’s Community Choice Electricity Program. If you typically pay around $100 per month on your electricity bill you can expect to pay around $15 more per month for 100% renewable electricity. If you are looking for a money saving option, renters can get a no-cost Home Energy Assessment for Mass Save, during which you will get free energy efficient LED light bulbs and other energy and water saving devices. Finally, you can make some small behavior changes to reduce your carbon footprint. The SustainaVille Sustainability Guide has a range of actions for all budgets and abilities. Somerville Climate Forward is looking at additional policies and programs that could help renters reduce their energy consumption and increase resilience in their homes.

I'm new to SustainaVille and its efforts, so am generally interested in what's been done so far and what has not been addressed.

Visiting SustainaVille is the best way to get up to speed on what we have done so far. Be sure to check out the Reports and Resources tab to read the baseline climate studies that are informing Somerville Climate Forward. You can also stay up to date on what we’re working on by signing up for our monthly email newsletter. Just fill out the form at the bottom of the SustainaVille page to sign up.

 

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Upcoming Events

Check back soon for more Somerville Climate Forward meetings.