Boston Plans to Go ‘Carbon Neutral’ by 2050

Published December 23, 2019

Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh (D) unveiled the “City of Boston Climate Action Plan 2019 Update” intended to force citywide “carbon [dioxide] neutrality” by 2050.

The plan requires a radical, citywide reduction of the use of fossil fuels for energy.

“Carbon neutrality means releasing no net carbon emissions on an annual basis,” the plan states.

Building on more than a decade of climate initiatives, the climate plan requires a complete makeover of several sectors of the city’s economy, including buildings, the energy supply, and transportation. It will require changes to the city’s zoning code and permitting requirements and many other laws and regulations.

Buildings and Rebuildings

The plan says buildings account for approximately 71 percent of the city’s carbon dioxide emissions. To meet the net zero target, by 2030 all new buildings constructed in Boston will have to meet their annual energy needs from renewable energy sources.

In addition, at least 80 percent of the city’s existing buildings will have to be retrofitted with high-efficiency appliances and cooling, heating, and lighting systems over the next 30 years. Existing buildings will also have to install improved insulation and windows.

The plan announced in October goes beyond Massachusetts’ Clean Energy Standard, which requires that 80 percent of the state’s electricity be generated by zero-emitting electric power sources by 2050. To reach carbon dioxide neutrality, the city plans to purchase electricity, if necessary from outside of New England, in bulk from renewable sources on behalf of residents and businesses.

Radical Transportation Overhaul

To cut transportation emissions, the city has set targets of increasing public transit ridership by more than a third, increasing biking rates fourfold, and doubling the amount of walking people do.

The city also plans to encourage electric vehicle (EV) use by installing charging stations on municipal lots and requiring charging infrastructure in new developments.

Boston will also accelerate its timeline for transitioning its municipal fleet to zero- or low-emission vehicles.

‘Segregating People by Class’

The city’s climate action plan amounts to backdoor segregation targeting the poor and minorities, says Horace Cooper, co-chairman of the National Center for Public Policy Research’s (NCPPR) Project 21 national advisory board, a network of black community leaders.

“In trying to make Boston carbon-neutral, Mayor Walsh will harm the economic prospects of vulnerable Bostonians such as those in the black community,” said Cooper. “Government mandates about where you can live, what you can drive, and where you can get your power will hobble businesses and raise consumer prices, effectively segregating people by class.”

Boston’s climate plan calls for a new Boston Tea Party in response, says Dan Kish, senior fellow at the Institute for Energy Research.

“Bostonians once rebelled against taxation without representation with the Tea Party, and this new plan needs to be dumped into Boston Harbor the same way,” said Kish. “The people responsible for this are the same ones who are denying Bostonians access to natural gas for cooking and heating.”

Bonner R. Cohen, Ph.D. ([email protected]) is a senior fellow at NCPPR and a senior policy analyst with the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow.