Preparing Greater Boston for the effects of climate change

Sasaki Associates

Among U.S. cities, Boston is one of the most vulnerable to climate change. Sea-level rise, heat waves, and increased precipitation will profoundly impact the city, its people, physical assets, economy, and culture.

In 2016, Barr launched a two-year Special Initiative for Climate Preparedness, largely to support efforts that advanced the City of Boston's ongoing plans and preparation for climate impacts, and position our region among global leaders in kindred efforts. This exploration prompted our decision to build this work into a long-term priority area, integrated within our existing Climate team.

The Barr Foundation’s Climate program has historically focused on mitigation. However, the Foundation has also conducted some limited grantmaking related to climate preparedness. Prior to 2016, grants totaling nearly $1.5 million have been awarded to:

Climate Mitigation and Preparedness

There are significant synergies between climate mitigation and preparedness. Raising awareness about the local impacts of climate change and the need for resilience planning can make climate change a concrete and present issue, as opposed to an abstract challenge far in the future. Furthermore, there are many win-win opportunities where actions that reduce greenhouse gas emissions can be done in concert with resilience measures. This is especially true with respect to investments in energy and transportation infrastructure.

Three Goals for 2016 and 2017

Under our special initiative, we focused on three goals:

  1. Laying the groundwork and technical basis for the City of Boston to address climate preparedness satisfactorily over the long term.
  2. Identifying innovative solution strategies for addressing the most critical climate risks and recommending changes in governance structures that will facilitate effective implementation of those strategies.
  3. Beginning to build support and capacity for action on climate preparedness within key public agencies and affected stakeholders (primarily business and neighborhoods).

Climate Ready Boston

The City of Boston’s Climate Action Plan (last updated in 2014) has a strong emphasis on climate preparedness. The Boston Green Ribbon Commission, which is supported by the Barr Foundation and several other local funders, has committed to help the City of Boston develop and implement its preparedness strategy.

In fall 2014, the Green Ribbon Commission contracted with Rebuild by Design to help design a long-term climate preparedness planning process for the Greater Boston region. Rebuild by Design played a pivotal role in the task force that led $1 billion of recovery efforts in the New York–New Jersey region following Hurricane Sandy. The City of Boston and the Green Ribbon Commission have worked with the same team to adapt its process for the Boston region. This planning process, led by the City of Boston in collaboration with the Green Ribbon Commission, will be the core investment of the Barr Foundation’s Special Initiative on Climate Preparedness, providing both the framework and technical foundation for long-term climate preparedness in the City of Boston.

The City’s planning process, termed “Climate Ready Boston,” will be undertaken in two phases at a cost of about $3.5 million over two years. The planning firm HR&A Advisors is the lead consultant on the project.

Phases of Work

Below were some of the key deliverables and activities for each phase of Climate Ready Boston:

Phase I (Year 1)

  • Climate projections: The School for the Environment at UMass Boston lead a team of scientists from several universities in the Boston area to update projections for sea-level rise, coastal flooding, increased precipitation, extreme heat, and the frequency and/or intensity of major storms. The process yielded likely ranges for future climate impacts in the Boston area and established a clear baseline for what the City needs to plan for and when.

  • An integrated vulnerability assessment: Led by a team from planning and design consultancies Arcadis and Sasaki Associates, an integrated assessment built upon several risk assessments already underway or completed by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, Massport, the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, the Boston Water and Sewer Commission, and other agencies. The assessment identified the City’s climate vulnerabilities and where action on climate preparedness is needed in the near term, over the long term, or both. The assessment focused on physical assets, infrastructure, and populations that may be particularly vulnerable to climate risks.

  • Resiliency initiatives: For each vulnerability identified in the assessment where action is needed, a portfolio of potential solutions was then created, and including interventions such as regulatory mechanisms, financial incentives, technical assistance, design standards, and physical infrastructure projects. HR&A Advisors lead this element of the project.

Read the Climate Ready Boston report from Phase I

Phase II (Year 2)

  • Design solutions: For more complex vulnerabilities—where a multi-faceted response is needed, deep cross-functional expertise is required, and there are opportunities to reap substantial benefits for a wide array of stakeholders and assets—design teams will be contracted to develop more detailed solutions for the most vulnerable areas.

  • Recommendations for governance changes: The process will also yield recommendations related to preparedness governance and to create an ongoing structure for multi-sector collaboration on climate resiliency planning and implementation decisions.

Climate Preparedness Grantmaking Process and Inquiries

The activities above will constitute the majority of our grantmaking under this special initiative. However, we also expect to explore opportunities to integrate resilience strategies into our Mobility and Clean Energy work. Additionally, as we will be in an active inquiry process about whether or not there may be a constructive role for Barr to play in preparing Greater Boston for climate change over the longer term, we welcome opportunities to become acquainted with others engaged in similar efforts.

If you would like to introduce yourself to us, the best approach is to email Mavourneen Foley, program assistant for our Climate team, with a brief description (we suggest 300–400 words) of your work. While we commit to reviewing all inquiries, given the high volume we receive and a relatively small staff, we reply only to those we intend to explore further.