The city of Boston is committed to the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy (GCoM) and part of a new generation of climate-conscious cities, showing that it is possible to turn commitment into action. The city has received all GCoM badges for mitigation and adaptation, achieving the status of a compliant city.
Besides the GCoM Americas, Boston has also participated in the International Urban and Regional Cooperation program (IURC), which has entered into a partnership on sustainable development with counterparts from the Barcelona Metropolitan Area. The European Union funds both initiatives.
On the support received from the GCoM, Boston City Hall declared: “the City of Boston has received immense value and support from the Global Covenant of Mayors. This international forum supports our mission to become a carbon-neutral, Green New Deal city by information sharing and collectively planning for our climate-resilient future”.
Reaffirming its commitment to fighting climate change, Boston has also signed onto the “We Are Still In” declaration, pledging Boston’s continued support for the Paris Climate Agreement. It is also a member of the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, the Urban Sustainability Directors Network, and the Metro Mayors Coalition.
“Addressing the structural changes needed to solve the climate crisis requires innovation, vision, and collaboration, on a global scale,” said Reverend Mariama White-Hammond, Chief of Environment, Energy and Open Space for the City of Boston. “I am grateful to the Global Covenant of Mayors for creating a communal space to share ideas, discuss our cities’ most pressing challenges, and hold each other accountable,” she emphasized.
The city is on “CDP’s 2021 A-List Cities” announced last November. This list recognizes, every year, cities that are leading in environmental action and transparency. To score an A grade, among other actions, the local government must have and publicly disclose a city-wide emissions inventory, have set an emission reduction target and a renewable energy target for the future, and also complete a climate risk and vulnerability assessment and have a climate adaptation plan to demonstrate how it will tackle climate hazards. In addition, A-List Cities must have published a complete Climate Action Plan (CAP), including both elements of mitigation and adaptation, and must be making progress towards achieving its ambitious but realistic goals.
The City of Boston has highlighted that tracking progress towards achieving these goals improves accountability and provides opportunities to redirect or recommit to priorities as needed. For example, the greenhouse gas inventory, compiled annually since 2007, allows the City to understand where emissions come from, quantify the potential impacts of programs and policies to reduce emissions, and track progress towards mitigation goals. The city has also begun compiling and releasing an annual climate action report that provides status updates on each action step listed in its Climate Action Plan. In this way, community members can track the implementation of the strategies that have been developed with their input.
The Climate Action Plan, updated in 2019, is Boston’s roadmap for reaching its greenhouse gas reduction and resilience goals, detailing strategies to increase carbon reductions from buildings and transportation until 2024, and prepare for the impact of climate change. The city has as its primary goals:
■ Reduce community-wide carbon emissions by 50% by 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2050;
■ Reduce municipal emissions by 60% by 2030 and 100% by 2050;
■ Prepare for sea level rise, hotter summers, and more rainfall during storms via the Climate Ready Boston initiative;
■ Empower Bostonians to access all parts of the city safely and reliably by transit, on foot, or a bike;
■ Become a zero waste community and increase the recycling rate from 25% to 80%;
■ Enhance community connectivity so that all families and residents may thrive in a carbon-neutral, climate-ready Boston.
Climate Ready Boston
Between 1991 and 2016, Boston experienced 21 events that triggered federal or state disaster declarations. Its residents are already affected by extreme heat, rain, snow, and flooding. As these trends tend only to continue, in 2016, the City released the Climate Ready Boston strategy.
Based on the most up-to-date scientific consensus of future climate conditions, Climate Ready Boston provides an evaluation of potential impacts from Boston’s three major climate hazards: extreme heat, stormwater flooding, and coastal and riverine flooding. Climate Ready Boston then identifies climate resilience initiatives to enable Boston to address these risks and continue to thrive in the face of climate change.
Since 2016, Boston has conducted a range of detailed, neighborhood-scale plans to build a portfolio of more than 70 projects. The total projected cost is around $3 billion, specifying where and when coastal flood resilience measures will need to be in place to implement a comprehensive solution across the 47-mile shoreline of Boston Harbor in the city.
The City of Boston is also completing a citywide heat resilience study, projected to be released in 2022, and the final two coastal resilience neighborhood studies. These studies have included pilot and demonstration programs, including distributions of air conditioning units and box fans to vulnerable communities, “Cool Spots” installations at public libraries, and other efforts. Besides that, the city is collaborating with the Greater Boston Research Advisory Group to complete a 5-year update of science-based climate projections for heat, sea level rise, coastal storms, precipitation, and groundwater rise. The projections can inform City policy and planning, following a process outlined in the 2016 Climate Ready Boston report.
In 2017, the city set a goal of making Boston carbon-neutral by 2050. Carbon neutrality means that in 30 years, the community can only release as much carbon pollution as the environment can safely absorb.
To start, Boston undertook a series of analyses to understand what it would take to achieve that goal, which became the Carbon Free Boston reports. The report’s key findings helped the 2019 Climate Action Plan Update identify the critical next steps to accelerate emissions reduction with a community working group.
Buildings and transportation make up nearly 99 percent of Boston’s carbon emissions. In 2018, the Boston community emitted 6.4 million metric tons of greenhouse gases (GHGs). To face up to this, they are putting in place strategies to cut emissions from buildings and transportation.
The key measures being implemented include adopting net zero carbon standards for municipal construction and City-funded affordable housing, and passing a carbon emissions performance standard to decarbonize existing buildings over 20,000 square feet. The City is also developing language for net zero carbon zoning, retrofitting and electrifying City buildings and exterior lighting, and advocating for a net-zero building code and equitable utility efficiency programs for Massachusetts.
In addition, rapid bus lane and bike lane deployment is being expanded. For the bike-share program, the city is installing publicly accessible EV charging stations in municipal lots, and accelerating the decarbonization of the City fleets. Other actions include new maximum parking ratios and eliminating minimum parking requirements for affordable housing and a municipal aggregation program, Community Choice Electricity, to expand access to safe and affordable clean energy for residents and businesses.
The city is transitioning to new net-zero carbon construction for buildings, and developing a new policy to make significant and existing buildings healthy and climate-friendly. Large buildings in Boston are the biggest emitters of carbon pollution. Setting a carbon standard for these buildings is one of the 2019 Climate Action Plan Update strategies.
The “Go Boston 2030” is the transportation plan. This plan envisions a city where all residents have better and more equitable travel choices and can access all parts of the city safely and reliably. The plan is being implemented and is currently supporting the adoption of zero-emission vehicles.
Boston is also taking steps to make its energy supply cleaner and more resilient by reducing citizens’ environmental impacts stemming from consumption.
Zero Waste Plan
The Zero Waste Boston initiative strives to move Boston toward zero waste through planning, policy, and community engagement. The plan, launched in 2019, includes 30 near- and long-term strategies for reducing both consumption of natural resources and greenhouse gas emissions. Critical parts of the plan include expanding Boston’s composting program, increasing access to recycling opportunities, and launching a city-wide education campaign on recycling.
By implementing such strategies over time, Boston can reduce trash and increase recycling and composting by about 638,000 tons per year, increasing the current recycling rate from approximately 25 percent to 80 percent by 2035. Approximately six percent of Boston’s greenhouse gas emissions come from the City’s discarded materials. By reducing waste, recycling more, and composting, Boston can reduce emissions associated with waste and move one step closer to its goal of carbon neutrality by 2050.
See the zero waste plan here