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Our progress toward carbon neutrality

February 8, 2018

Environment

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Environment

Greenhouse gas emissions inventory data for 2005-2015 has been made available to the public as part of the City’s Climate Action Plan.

Boston’s goal is to be carbon neutral by 2050. This goal is in line with other cities leading on climate action and all other actors signed on to the Paris Climate Agreement. We’re committed to addressing climate change because we’re already feeling its impacts. Earlier this year during winter storm Grayson, many of our residents and businesses saw that firsthand.

It’s important for everyone to understand these risks, especially when it provides opportunity to be more creative and smart about our built and social environments. But the challenge is twofold. If we are to avoid the worst of those projected impacts, we need to accelerate our reductions in greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change.

The City of Boston is looking at how we can achieve our goal of carbon neutrality by reviewing all of our options. Then we can make smart choices to address the challenges head on in the next update of our Climate Action Plan. We’re working with Boston University’s Institute of Sustainable Energy and Boston’s Green Ribbon Commission to form an understanding of our options through technical modeling that their teams of experts are creating. Their analysis will look at four key sectors where to reducing carbon emissions is critical  energy, buildings, transportation, and waste.

It’s true, 2050 is more than 30 years away. But it’s important to start the work now because the challenge ahead won’t be easy. We’ll need everyone’s help in developing a shared, positive vision for a carbon-free future and seize the opportunity to build a healthy, greener Boston.

Where are we now

Like many cities leading on climate action, it’s important to track our citywide greenhouse gas emissions and inventory the source of those emissions. Today, we released the latest sets of data within our greenhouse gas emissions through Analyze Boston, the City of Boston’s open data hub. As with all Analyze Boston datasets, we encourage you to explore the numbers. We also provided a report that helps to explain where the numbers come from and how we’re looking at them.

In short  we’re holding steady while we grow and are on trend to reach our goals. But we’re also two percent above last year’s emissions. Some of that increase in emissions can be attributed to natural variation in weather, such as cold winters. While the overall trend is downward, it’s not happening fast enough.

Some highlights from the data:
  • We now have ten years of data  2005 to 2015. The way we track our data is in line with international standards on how to track city emissions. Tens years of numbers is a major milestone in tracking our progress against our goals.
  • We emitted 6.4 million metric tons of greenhouse gases in 2015. By comparison in 2005, we emitted 7.4 million metric tons of greenhouse gases. While we’ve made progress, we  like all cities and those signed on to Paris Climate Agreement  have a lot of work to get to our 2050 goal of carbon neutrality.
  • We’ve shown we can reduce emissions while growing. Our economy has boomed and our population is continuing to grow, but we still need to accelerate at a faster rate to get to our goal.
  • Approximately 75 percent of our emissions comes from energy use in buildings. That also makes it one of our biggest opportunities in solving the problem. We know two things to improve that area  we need to be smarter about the way we use energy and we need look toward cleaner sources of energy.
  • Transportation is about 25 percent of our emissions, which means that we have to look at changing the way we commute and changing the way we fuel our vehicles.
  • Most of our gains over the last decade have come from transitioning to natural gas, getting rid of heating oil, and improving our vehicle fuel economy. Together that means that a lot of our gains in reducing emissions have been from greening the grid. This helps emphasize the importance of regional collaboration to address the challenge together.

You can read more details on our greenhouse gas inventory, or dive in to the datasets on Analyze Boston.

We’re in this together

If we’re going to get to carbon neutrality, there is a lot of hard work and big decisions ahead. That is why a process like Carbon Free Boston is so important. We need to fully understand all of our options in order to make smart choices quickly. The final analysis of Carbon Free Boston is expected to be completed at the end of this summer. Together with what we learned from Climate Ready Boston, we’ll launch a community-wide process to create our shared roadmap for a carbon free and climate ready Boston in the next update of Boston’s Climate Action Plan.

Greenovate Boston is your one-stop shop for staying informed and engaged in the work that the City is doing on climate action. We work to connect residents to resources, like how to save energy in your homes through Mass Save — which is one of the biggest impacts you can make right now as an individual — and even offer trainings on how to talk about the impacts of climate change in our backyard. But we’re far from the silver bullet.

This is an all-hands-on-deck challenge. We have great partners helping us push this work forward, but we encourage all members of the Boston community to join us in creating solutions that lead to a carbon-free future. We recognize that the impacts of climate change are felt first and worst by those in our most vulnerable communities. We’re committed to ensuring that all Bostonians are part of this process, especially those who have been historically disadvantaged. We all need to come together to meet this monumental challenge.

Carbon Free Boston