MIT & City of Cambridge: Partners in Climate Vulnerability Solutions

Elly Rostoum | MIT Climate Change Blog
January 16, 2015

Faculty from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology committed time and expertise this year to the development a Climate Vulnerability Assessment for the City of Cambridge.  The assessment will assist the city, and local partners, prepare for, and assess urban vulnerability to, the impacts of climate change.

The soon to be completed vulnerability assessment will identify how vulnerable or resilient Cambridge is to climate change—technically defined as any significant change in the measures of climate lasting for an extended period of time, including major changes in temperature, precipitation, or wind patterns, among other effects, that occur over several decades or longer. The vulnerability assessment will largely be a technical study of the city’s population, infrastructure, public health, and local economy in terms of risks and vulnerabilities to impacts resulting from increased temperatures, more intense storms, and storm surge flooding associated with sea level rise. Informed by the technical analyses and using scenarios that fall within the range of projected climate change, the City will rate and rank the vulnerabilities of residents, buildings, infrastructure, important community assets, and key systems.
Other technical analyses that are being performed include mapping and projecting surface and air temperatures to understand heat vulnerability; assessing the vulnerability of our urban forest to flooding and increased temperatures; mapping of demographic factors, infrastructure, and community assets; and modeling economic impacts from flooding and business disruption.
The project is coordinated by an inter-departmental steering committee consisting of the Cambridge Public Works, Public Health, and Community Development Departments. MIT professor and member of the MIT Climate Change Conversation Committee, Henry Jacoby, and professor Stephen Hammer are members of the Expert Advisory Panel for the vulnerability assessment, and have provided advisory and feedback services on the assessment's technical approach and assumptions. 
The climate change vulnerability assessment and preparedness plan was based on a recommendation from the City's Climate Protection Action Committee, which advises the Cambridge City Manager on the implementation of the Climate Protection Plan.
The vulnerability assessment is expected to be completed in early 2015 and serve as the technical foundation for a climate change preparedness and resilience plan:  a strategy to make Cambridge more prepared and resilient to climate change impacts.  The City has conducted an extensive public involvement process as part of the plan development, organizing public workshops and community presentations to engage residents, businesses, and organizations.  MIT plans to use the product of the Cambridge vulnerability assessment in risk and climate planning in the future.