Report says Boston not meeting climate action targets

Says driving in Boston increased 20% over last 20 years

Boston University Statehouse Program

AN INAUGURAL progress report says Boston isn’t on pace to meet its goal of cutting carbon emissions by half before 2030 and becoming carbon-neutral by 2050.

The report – issued by the Boston Foundation and developed in partnership with the Boston Green Ribbon Commission – includes findings from more than 50 interviews with elected officials, academic experts, environmental justice groups, and members of the private sector and non-profit organizations.

It identified 12 outcomes needed to achieve the city’s climate and equity goals. These include retrofitting the small building stock, generating electricity from renewable and other low-carbon generation resources, and phasing out non–zero emissions vehicles.

“Boston is one of the few cities that assesses its progress on how well it is achieving the goals of climate action,” said Northeastern University professor Joan Fitzgerald, who wrote the report with Michael Walsh.

With many Boston homes reliance on natural gas for heating, the study said 70,000 single-and small multifamily homes need to be electrified. The report stated heat pumps can replace the gas systems in homes.

Just over 100 heat pumps were installed in single-family and small multifamily homes in Boston last year, said the authors. They added that 1 million must be installed across Massachusetts by 2030 to meet the state’s climate targets – a pace requiring 10,000 installs per year across Boston’s building stock.

Another vital outcome is increasing housing near transit. Alternative travel modes are required to reduce vehicle reliance and ownership. Walsh said the state’s under-investment in Greater Boston’s public transportation system contributed to increased emissions.

While emissions in Boston declined 21 percent between 2005 and 2019, the report said, over the past two decades the city has experienced unprecedented growth in population and economic activity, which has led to a 10 percent increase in built floorspace and a 20 percent rise in driving.

Walsh added that one of the biggest challenges facing the city is protecting its coastlines. The report said sea levels around Boston rose nine inches in the 20th century, with another eight inches predicted by 2030.

According to the authors, Boston needs to make investments to protect coastal areas from rising seas and extreme weather. They note the cost of implementing the city’s coastline plans is between $862.2 million and $1.6 billion. But the report identifies privately owned land as a significant obstacle.

“Massachusetts allows cities and towns to add more restrictive wetlands bylaw laws, which can present additional barriers to projects,” Fitzgerald said. “Some developers are taking steps to protect their properties, but it’s disjointed.”

Despite the discouraging findings, the authors said they believe quick progress can soon be made. They cited Mayor Michelle Wu’s Green New Deal Agenda, the recent passage of the federal Inflation Reduction Act, and new leadership at the state level as reasons for optimism.

With that said, they stressed that accelerating the climate plan will require the city, state, and federal government to adopt an all-hands-on-deck approach.

The authors said they plan on assessing the city’s progress toward achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 every two years.