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Cambridge Prepares for the Inevitable Effects of Global Climate Change

November 30, 2015

The City of Cambridge is planning ahead and preparing for the inevitable effects of global climate change.  Today after three years of investigation, the city released The CCVA Report:  Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment – Part 1, a rigorous and detailed assessment of Cambridge’s vulnerabilities to rising temperatures and increasing precipitation. 

The analysis shows that there will be costs to the economy, public health, and livability of the city if no action is taken.  The report identifies specific facilities and areas that are subject to vulnerabilities from future heat and flooding conditions and helps the city set planning priorities.
“To plan effectively, we have to understand the risks that climate change poses to the city in more local detail,” said City Manager Richard C. Rossi. “Cambridge has invested in gathering the best available science, marshalled expertise, and brought the public along to build a solid foundation for our preparations for climate change.  We will make Cambridge a more resilient community.”
The Assessment represents a “climate stress test” on Cambridge.  In other words, it looks at what would happen to people, buildings, and infrastructure if we experienced more heat and rainfall.  Our systems and people may not be prepared for the “new normal” conditions.  Using the best available science, the city used projections of temperature, humidity, and precipitation in 2030 and 2070. 

Among the effects we may see are:

  • Tripling of days with temperatures over 90 degrees Fahrenheit by 2030 and nearly 10 weeks of 90 plus degree weather by 2070.
  • Expanding areas of above average temperatures, reaching conditions on hot days that would be dangerous to public health.
  • Increasing rates of rainfall that would cause flooding from the Alewife Brook overflowing its banks and backups in storm drainage systems throughout the city.
  • Cambridge needs to prioritize the vulnerabilities to increasing heat and precipitation, before the threat of sea level rise.

“When we think of climate change, we usually picture sea level rise and flooding,” said Sam Lipson, Director of Environmental Health at Cambridge Public Health Department.  “A major finding of this Assessment is that Cambridge’s vulnerability to increasing heat and interruption of critical services like mail, food and medication delivery will escalate rapidly during a major event and this is a scenario we are not well prepared for yet.  This means we have to start working on increasing our resilience to rising heat now.” 

“Our storm water infrastructure --- the pipes, manholes, and catch basins – are designed for the storm patterns of the past,” said Owen O’Riordan, Commissioner of Public Works. “Climate change is forecasted to cause significant increases in the rate of rainfall, which would lead to expansion of the areas at risk of flooding and the depth of floods.  We will need new strategies to deal with future conditions.”
The report is the result of three years of effort by an inter-departmental staff team and an interdisciplinary consultant team.  The city also worked with an Expert Advisory Panel drawn from the area’s universities and a stakeholder advisory group.

The goal of the Vulnerability Assessment is to enable the city, residents, businesses, and institutions, to plan for the future.  The assessment is based on the scenario of no action being taken.  With the results of the study, the city is identifying strategies and actions to manage the effects of climate change.  A Climate Change Preparedness and Resilience Plan is the next stage. 

“The findings contained in the CCVA will also inform the Citywide Plan process that is about to launch,” said Iram Farooq, Assistant City Manager for Community Development. “Until recently, we have been able to plan the future based on the climate of the past.  We can’t do that any longer.  This assessment gives us a way to factor climate change into our planning decisions.”
The city is also assessing the risks presented by sea level rise and storm surges. Findings indicate that through 2030, Cambridge is protected from significant storm surge risks due to its position behind the Charles River and Amelia Earhart Dams.  Very rigorous modeling of storm surge risks for 2070, when sea level may rise at least 3 feet, has been completed.  The results will be presented at a public meeting on Thursday, Dec. 3, 6:15-8:30 p.m., at the Cambridge Public Library, 449 Broadway.
The report is being released as the United Nations Conference of Parties climate summit starts in Paris.  While some impacts of climate change are unavoidable, the worst impacts can still be prevented by decisive international cooperation on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the primary cause of climate change.
The CCVA Report – Part 1 is available at www.cambridgema.gov/climateprep.
For more information, contact John Bolduc, Environmental Planner, at jbolduc@cambridgema.gov or 617-349-4628.

This announcement was written by the City of Cambridge Public Information Office.


Suzy Feinberg, MPH
Public Information Officer

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