This post was submitted by United States Country Manager Nathan Holman
Boston, Massachusetts has long been a leader on climate action among cities in the United States. As a member of the C40 Cities network (connecting some of the world’s most prominent cities around bold climate action goals), Boston has also garnered attention at a global scale. The city’s climate action plan points out that, as a coastal city, it has an acute need for effective climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies.
Boston’s climate commitments are in keeping with the global effort to ensure global warming does not exceed 1.5%. The city has committed to:
- Reduce community-wide carbon emissions by 50%, from 2005 levels, by 2030.
- Achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.
In addition, Boston has committed to reducing municipal emissions by 60% by 2030. This goal captures emissions produced by municipal functions, such as municipal buildings and transportation.
To deliver on its climate commitments, the City of Boston has implemented six key programs:
- Building Energy Reporting and Disclosure Ordinance – requiring large and medium-sized buildings to report annual energy and water use, as well as requiring a major energy savings action or assessment every five years.
- Community Choice Electricity (CCE) – giving citizens the opportunity to choose, at a local level, what type of electricity is used to power their homes and businesses.
- Air Pollution Control Commission – regulating activities that affect air and noise pollution by requiring reviews and permits.
- Zero Net Carbon Building Zoning Initiative – identifying strategies to strengthen green building zoning requirements, with a view to achieving a net zero carbon standard for new construction.
- Recharge Boston – supporting adoption of electric vehicles and supporting a transition to energy-saving forms of transportation such as public transit and carpooling.
- Renew Boston Trust – financing the transition to greener buildings by leveraging energy savings.
Boston’s climate action plan is strengthened by its multi-departmental approach. Responsibility for its six programs lie with different municipal departments. Engaging various government teams allows for a more coordinated and unified effort.
Nearly 70% of Boston’s emissions are generated by buildings. The Renew Boston Trust is a creative and proven financing model that allows the city to invest in making its municipal buildings more energy efficient. Planning for lower energy consumption creates space in the city’s operating budget. That space in the budget is used to finance the work of implementing energy-saving measures and the cost savings are guaranteed by the contractor performing the work. In effect, the energy conserving measures pay for themselves – and more. Surplus savings are used to make buildings more comfortable and, moving forward, will be invested in resiliency measures for the city.
Visit the Renew Boston Trust webpage to view the steps taken under this program and the savings associated with each measure.
Achieving Carbon Neutrality
Can Boston deliver on its ambitious commitments? Based on the city’s success since 2005, it seems well positioned to achieve significant carbon reductions by 2050, if not carbon neutrality. By 2017, Boston’s emissions were reduced by 20% from 2005 levels, before increasing slightly in 2018.
The graph below shows Boston’s path to achieving its past goal of 25% carbon reductions by 2020, then achieving carbon neutrality by 2050.
Image from the City of Boston’s website (https://www.boston.gov/environment-and-energy/reducing-emissions)
The city’s actual emissions have been reduced notably since 2005. However, Boston will need to continue improving and refining its carbon-cutting programs to achieve its goal of net-zero emissions by 2050.
In working toward this goal, Boston has the crucial support of the governor and state legislature. In March of 2021, Massachusetts passed a law requiring net-zero carbon emissions across the state by 2050. This mandate improves upon the state’s previous legal requirement for an 80% reduction by 2050. With the increasing support of the state government, the City of Boston is on a tenable path to carbon neutrality.
Contact: Boston’s “Carbon Neutrality Program Manager” is Katherine Eshel. Email address is firstname.lastname@example.org