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Last updated: 6/29/18

Carbon Free Boston common questions

Carbon Free Boston is the City's long-term initiative to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

We're currently working with the Green Ribbon Commission and Boston University's Institute for Sustainable Energy. They are analyzing how different policy and technology options can help the City reach our climate goals. The Green Ribbon Commission will be releasing the research results in the upcoming Carbon Free Boston report.

This page seeks to answer some common questions about the initiative and our upcoming report.

Still have questions? Contact:
Environment
1 City Hall Square
Room 709
Boston, MA 02201-2031
United States
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Want to learn more about the Carbon Free Boston report? Check out the project roadmap.

About the initiative

About the initiative

Boston’s goal is to be carbon neutral by 2050. Carbon Free Boston is the Mayor’s initiative to reach that goal. As a first step, the City of Boston is reviewing all our options to see how we can achieve carbon neutrality. The Green Ribbon Commission and the Boston University Institute for Sustainable Energy are in the process of producing a report. Their experts are analyzing how various policy and technology options can reduce our carbon emissions. The analysis focuses on four key sectors where reducing emissions is critical:

  • energy
  • buildings
  • transportation, and
  • waste.

The commission will publish the results in the fall. These results will inform the next Climate Action Plan update. The Climate Action Plan is the City’s roadmap to become carbon-neutral and climate-ready by 2050.

We’re working to reduce carbon in Boston. The report we plan to publish this fall will help us make smart choices to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. The project team is assessing the potential emissions impact of policy and technology options. It will also provide insight into potential costs and co-benefits. The analysis will allow us to focus on strategies as we update our Climate Action Plan. This will help speed up our progress toward carbon neutrality.

Our initiative is working to get Boston to carbon neutrality by 2050. What does “carbon neutral” mean? Our net greenhouse gas emissions will need to become equal to or less than the amount of carbon our local environment can safely absorb.

Climate Ready Boston is the Mayor’s initiative to prepare for the effects of climate change. The Climate Ready Boston report determined that the scale of future change depends on our actions today. The updated climate projections found that future climate change in Boston includes:

  • extreme temperatures
  • extreme rain and snowfall
  • sea level rise, and
  • coastal storms.

These impacts are likely to have a big impact on:

  • older adults
  • the very young
  • outdoor workers, and
  • those with pre-existing health conditions.

Understanding the risks at stake, the City of Boston knew it needed to take action. We know climate change is caused by an excess of carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere. So we set an ambitious goal: to become carbon neutral by 2050. Carbon Free Boston is analyzing options for how the City can get this done. The results will allow the City to prioritize climate actions that help prevent the worst effects of climate change.

Carbon Free Boston report

Report
  • November 2017: Project launch
  • January - March 2018: Data collection
  • April - June 2018: Model calibration, development of policy
  • June - August 2018: Model results and iteration
  • Fall 2018: Final report delivery

The report will explain why it's important for Boston to become carbon neutral, and what that means for the City. The research team will quantify the effect of different policy options on our greenhouse gas emissions. They will also provide insight into potential costs and benefits of different options across four key sectors. Those sectors are energy, buildings, transportation, and waste.

The quantitative analysis will help the City understand its options. The City will use the report results during its Climate Action Plan update. The Climate Action Plan is the City's roadmap to reach our goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2050.

Carbon Free Boston is quantifying how different policy options could change Boston's future carbon emissions. To do so, the research team is building technical models, one for each key sector:

  • energy
  • buildings
  • transportation, and
  • waste.

Each of these models generates scenarios of possible future greenhouse gas emissions. Those scenarios are based on different combinations of policy options for each sector. The research team will combine all four models to propose policy combinations that get us to carbon neutrality. The model results will help the City choose the right strategies to reduce our emissions when we update our Climate Action Plan.

Technical Advisory Groups advise the research team on the four key sectors, as well as on social equity. Members include sector-specific experts and key public and private sector stakeholders.

The groups give advice on the development and application of quantitative models. They also work to ensure the models are state-of-the-art. Group members also help identify the key policy options to model, and connections between the four sectors. This guidance helps ensure that the Carbon Free Boston report reflects the best technical expertise.

The models are calibrated using measured data where possible. Models contain some assumptions based upon the best available information. But, they will always contain a degree of uncertainty. These models will need to be refined over time as new information becomes available. The results of Carbon Free Boston will be open source and subject to review. Anyone can understand and assess the models' assumptions, and support their refinement.

If we’re going to become carbon neutral by 2050, there are many big decisions ahead. The ongoing Carbon Free Boston research project will help us understand our options. This will help us make smart choices in our Climate Action Plan update. This update will build on existing plans, like Climate Ready Boston. The next Climate Action Plan will be our roadmap for a carbon-free and climate-ready Boston. This roadmap will shape our work for the next few years.

Policy options

Policy options

Carbon Free Boston is assessing the effects of policy options on our greenhouse gas emissions. We’re studying four key sectors: energy, transportation, waste, and buildings. The extent to which a policy will evaluated will vary. It depends on the extent and and quality of data. Our research team drew up a list of policy options from:

Our policy options page has the full list of policy and technology options under study.

The City will decide which policy options to focus on for implementation. This will happen during the next update of the Boston Climate Action Plan. Our evaluation will use criteria like those developed for Climate Ready Boston or Zero Waste Boston. These may include:

  • impact and cost
  • effectiveness
  • community co-benefits, and
  • how easy it is to put a policy in place.

No. The report will quantify the emissions reduction potential of different policy and technology options. This will help us understand how different strategies can support our climate goals. The City will use the report’s results to focus on actions to take during the next Climate Action Plan update.

No. The report will only help the City understand the potential carbon impact of different policy options. It will also provide insights into possible costs and co-benefits. The Carbon Free Boston report will inform the upcoming Climate Action Plan update.

No. The report will quantify the potential carbon impact of different policy and technology options. This will help us understand how different strategies can support our climate goals. The City will use the report’s results to focus on actions to take during the next Climate Action Plan update.

Research team

Research team

In 2016, Mayor Walsh pledged that the City of Boston would become carbon neutral by 2050. Mayor Walsh asked the Green Ribbon Commission to help the City explore strategies to meet this goal. The GRC has partnered with the City on climate action since 2010. The Boston University Institute for Sustainable Energy will analyze Boston's carbon reduction options. The Institute has significant expertise that qualifies them to assess our policy and technology options for carbon neutrality.

The Green Ribbon Commission is a group of business, institutional, and civic leaders in Boston. They work to develop shared strategies for fighting climate change, in coordination with the City’s Climate Action Plan. Mayor Walsh is a co-chair of the commission.

To produce the upcoming Carbon Free Boston report, the commission:

  • raised funds
  • structured the work, and
  • managed the research project.

The Green Ribbon Commission will present the report to the City in the fall of 2018.

The commission also convenes the Steering Committee. The Committee includes key leaders from the City. This group oversees the analysis led by the Boston University Institute for Sustainable Energy. The Green Ribbon Commission will publish the results of their analysis in the Carbon Free Boston report.

The Boston University Institute for Sustainable Energy is a university-wide research center. The institute studies how we can transition to a sustainable, climate-safe global energy system. BU is leading the initial analysis for Carbon Free Boston. For each policy option, they’re developing models to identify its:

  • effectiveness in reducing greenhouse gas emissions
  • potential costs, and
  • possible co-benefits.

These models will help us understand the potential impact of all the different strategies for achieving carbon neutrality. They are working with a team of consultants and technical advisers to carry out the analysis. BU is responsible for writing the final report, which will be released by the Green Ribbon Commission.

The Boston University Institute for Sustainable Energy research team has hired external consultants. These consultants have deep expertise in key domains:

  • Buildings: Arup
  • Social equity: All Aces
  • Transportation: Cambridge Systematics

Carbon Free Boston report strategy

Strategy

The Carbon Free Boston report is directed by a Steering Committee. The Committee is convened by the Green Ribbon Commission. The City of Boston Environment Department chairs the Committee. Members include leaders from the City, the Commonwealth, the Green Ribbon Commission, and other stakeholders.

Massachusetts recently adopted a new Clean Energy Standard within the Global Warming Solutions Act. This new standard requires the Massachusetts electric grid to run on 80% clean energy by 2050. For our purposes, the research team includes the assumption that Boston’s energy sector emissions will decline as the grid gets cleaner. But, to reach carbon neutrality, Boston will need to go further than the grid.

The research team is studying policies that would allow Boston to reduce its energy sector emissions to net zero. The team is also reviewing policies that need to be taken by groups outside of the City. For example, only the state can change the building code. And regional transportation depends on the MBTA and other nearby regional transit authorities.

The City has a resilience strategy, Resilient Boston. That plan works to ensure all Bostonians have the access and support they need to thrive from childhood to retirement. This approach extends to both their daily lives and major emergencies. In support of the City's resilience goals, our research team formed a Social Equity Advisory Group. The advisory group includes equity experts from:

  • the City of Boston
  • academia
  • non-government organizations, and
  • civil society.

Group members offer expertise and outside perspectives to address social equity issues in the analysis. They also work to ensure that models to reduce Boston’s emissions account for social equity concerns. The equity group's members also attend the Technical Advisory Group meetings. Likewise, experts from the Technical Advisory Groups can take part in the equity group. The goal is to ensure an open and transparent discussion of social equity issues in the City's efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Getting involved

Getting involved

Carbon Free Boston is an ongoing initiative. We’re always listening for ideas to reach Boston’s climate goals. Have suggestions or questions about the work we’re doing? Email us at greenovate@boston.gov, or submit your comment below:

SUBMIT YOUR COMMENT

You can learn more about Carbon Free Boston on:

Have a question that wasn’t answered on this page? Email us at greenovate@boston.gov, or come talk to us at Greenovate Boston events.

The Carbon Free Boston initiative is one piece of Greenovate Boston’s efforts in communications, events, and relationship building. Greenovate Boston is your one-stop shop for staying engaged with the work the City is doing on climate action. A public event – “Let’s Talk Carbon Neutrality” – was held at Boston University on February 8, 2018. Carbon Free Boston has also been a key topic during other Greenovate Boston and other City events. For example, we discussed the initiative at Greenovate Boston events during Civic Engagement Week in April 2018. The Environment Department also attends other City outreach events. This includes the Mayor’s Office Coffee Hour Series.

After the Carbon Free Boston report is released, we will start work on the next Climate Action Plan update. This update will focus on taking effective action on climate. We’re still working on what the update process is going to look like. We want to make sure that Boston residents and other key stakeholders are part of that process.

We’re going to be expanding the Climate Ready Boston Leaders program to create a new Greenovate Leaders program. The new Leaders program will supply participants with training and offer scholarships to lead community initiatives in support of the City’s climate work. We hope the expanded program will empower Bostonians of all walks of life to educate their neighbors and tackle our climate challenge head on.

Want to stay in the loop on the upcoming Climate Action Plan update and the new Greenovate Boston Leaders program? Join our mailing list.