Massachusetts state and city officials regrouped in Boston yesterday after a trip to Europe, where they learned about ways to protect the Bay State’s shorelines from the effects of climate change.
The Climate Innovations Study Tour, hosted by the Boston Green Ribbon Commission (GRC), visited the Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden in June to see firsthand how the countries are using renewable energy and protecting communities that are at or below sea level.
“We wanted to take folks to places that have moved farther down this road than we have,” said John Cleveland, the executive director of GRC, in a briefing on the trip at City Hall. “We wanted to bring back ideas to the Commonwealth of how we can catch up to our great European counterparts.”
Sea levels are projected to rise in Boston anywhere from 2 to 6 feet by the end of the century, depending on how fast the ice in Greenland and Antarctica melts. Combined with the more frequent and severe storms predicted by scientists, climate change puts much of Boston at risk.
In addition to state and local officials, Cleveland and other members of the GRC invited local environmental groups and the University of Massachusetts Boston to take part in the Euro trip.
“We tried to figure out who are the folks that will have to work on [climate change strategy] together over the next few decades,” Cleveland said.
The weeklong visit started in the Netherlands. The group toured the Amsterdam canal system and the Edge – Deloitte’s Amsterdam headquarters and the greenest building in the world. The group also visited the Maeslant, the world’s largest movable storm barrier in Rotterdam that blocks storm surges up to 3 meters, or nearly 10 feet, in a city that has experienced significant sea-level rise.
“The trip showed us what is possible … how ideas we’ve talked about are actually taking place on the ground in many places,” said Carl Spector, Boston’s commissioner of the environment department.
“The beauty of this tour was seeing things close up,” said Michelle Wu, president of the Boston City Council. “Seeing countries dealing with issues [in ways] that are more advanced to what we see in Boston, seeing that they are doing it with technology.”
The group then traveled to Copenhagen to tour the Middelgrunden wind farm. Over 40 percent of Denmark’s energy is sourced directly from the wind, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark. Boston’s environment and energy chief, Austin Blackmon, was impressed.
“We’re just beginning to build [wind turbines],” he said. Wind energy contributes virtually zero electricity to the state’s total power supply, according to the Institute for Energy Research.
Group members were also interested in the extensive use of bicycles in both Amsterdam and Copenhagen as a means of reducing carbon emissions.
“I was amazed by how many people drove bikes,” said Boston City Councilor Sal LaMattina. “I still remember the first time we put the bike lanes in neighborhoods in Boston, and people would call me to complain about the bike lanes.”
Forty-five percent of Copenhagen’s commuter traffic comes from cyclists, while bicycles only make up 1.9 percent of Boston’s traffic.
Blackmon said the city is already working to increase this percentage with pop-up bike lanes around Boston, such as the one set up on Beacon Street on Tuesday. It’s a temporary lane set up between parked cars and the curb, to create a safe barrier from traffic.
The final leg of the trip took place in Malmo, Sweden, where the group took a tour of Västra Hamnen, the first carbon-neutral district in Europe.
Cleveland said it was particularly helpful visiting experts in the key areas where Boston needs to make progress, such as combating sea-level rise and reducing carbon emissions.
“Nobody has it all figured out,” he said. “In the Netherlands, they aren’t ahead in renewable energy, but with sea-level rise, they’re first class. In all of the major areas where we need progress, there was someone with world-class performance.”
Cleveland also said the trip was beneficial in creating relationships abroad and fostering teamwork among different groups in Boston concerned about climate change.
They’re still planning how they can incorporate these European climate change strategies locally.
“We’re already having ongoing conversations with all the group participants,” Blackmon said. “What did the group feel like was most feasible? The most impactful?”
But just talking about these solutions is not enough, he said.
“Yes, it’s great we’re doing these planning processes, but we have to demonstrate progress as well,” he said. “We have to make sure our study trip does get implemented into action.”
Correction: A previous version of this article misstated the number of people who commute by bicycle in Boston and Copenhagen. 1.9 percent of Boston commuters ride a bicycle to work, not 5 percent, and 45 percent of commuters in Copenhagen use a bicycle, not 40 percent.
Carolyn Holtzman is an intern contributing to climate change coverage at The GroundTruth Project.