Net-zero target called most aggressive in world
A handful of states, and somecountries have similar goal
GOV. CHARLIE BAKER’S top energy aide said his proposal for net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 puts Massachusetts among a very small group of states and countries attempting to limit the impact of climate change.
Kathleen Theoharides, the governor’s secretary of energy and environmental affairs, said Massachusetts is joining Hawaii, New York, and California in pursuing net-zero emissions by 2050. A number of countries and foreign cities are also pursuing the same target, some on a faster timeline. (This paragraph was changed after initial publication to clarify efforts abroad.)
“This is the most aggressive goal that exists in the world,” Theoharides said.
Theoharides declined to say when Baker pulled the trigger on going for net-zero emissions by 2050, which he announced as part of his State of the State address Tuesday night. She said the idea emerged as part of an ongoing study her agency is conducting to figure out how to reach the previous goal – an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels. That study, being carried out by a group of consultants, is nicknamed the 80-50 study.
According to state data, Massachusetts greenhouse gas emissions totaled 94.5 million metric tons in 1990. The goal for this year is 70.8 million metric tons and the goal for 2050 had been 18.8 million metric tons.
Theoharides said the idea of pursuing a net-zero goal was bandied about as part of the 80-50 study after the UN report was released in October 2018. The idea apparently moved to the fore fairly recently.
“There have been ongoing discussions that we’ve been having for a while,” Theoharides said, referring to net-zero. “The science was in a certain place in 2008 when the [Global Warming Solutions] law got passed, but the science got updated in 2018.”
Net-zero is an imprecise term. It doesn’t mean the state will cease all greenhouse gas emissions. It means, according to Theoharides, that the state will attempt to reduce emissions as much as possible through the development of renewable, low-emission forms of energy; aggressive energy efficiency programs; and sequestration efforts, including the development of new forests and wetlands. Theoharides said policies could also be developed that would allow polluters to offset their emissions by buying some form of credit, with the proceeds being used to produce more renewable energy generating fewer emissions.
The secretary acknowledged that the state’s economy is likely to change dramatically over the next few decades to meet the emission target. She said the roadmap for doing that will be laid out in the 80-50 study due out later this year. She also said the regional transportation climate initiative will play a crucial role, although TCI is facing pushback from governors in neighboring states and new poll results released on Wednesday by a group opposed to TCI raised questions about the level of support for the initiative here in Massachusetts.
Theoharides praised Baker for taking a leadership role on climate change. For a politician who 10 years ago sounded unsure whether climate change even existed, it is indeed an amazing transformation. But some environmental advocates are saying his net-zero goal is still too incremental and not aggressive enough.
Theoharides said she can implement the net-zero goal on her own without legislative action, but Sen. Marc Pacheco of Taunton is pushing the Legislature to codify the net-zero emissions 2050 goal. He said only by making the goal a law can Massachusetts residents feel comfortable that a future governor won’t change the policy.
Theoharides said she would have to see the legislation before saying whether she would support it.