Almost half the world’s population lives in cities, which are bearing the brunt of climate change impacts: sea level rise, extreme weather, and declining air quality and public health. Thankfully, a growing global alliance of cities is committing to mitigate these climate change impacts by reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Boston is actively involved in these efforts. In fact, Mayor Marty Walsh is hosting an International Climate Summit on June 7, as a prelude to the U.S. Conference of Mayors from June 8 to 11.
For these developments to be truly hopeful, however, city departments must meet the commitments made by city leaders. This is not the case with Community Choice Energy (CCE) in Boston. Although the Boston City Council passed an order authorizing CCE in October, 2017, the Office of Environment, Energy, and Open Space has tabled implementation. Such a delay comes at a cost. CCE would cut Boston’s GHG emissions by 33,000 metric tons annually, as shown by an analysis from the Applied Economics Clinic (AEC) at Tufts University. The city cannot afford to postpone this significant tool to reduce emissions.
Boston’s goals are in line with those of many other cities: a 25% cut in emissions from 2005 levels by 2020, and 100% carbon neutrality by 2050. With regard to reducing emissions from city government operations, Boston has exceeded its 2020 target. What is troubling is that community-wide emissions reduction is falling short of the goal. Boston tracks its GHG emissions rates annually in the GHG Emissions Inventory, a publicly accessible database. The data show that GHG emissions declined from 2005 through 2012, to almost 20% of 2005 levels. However, between 2012 and 2015, emissions have shown a continued upward trend, with the 2015 rate only 12% lower than in 2005. While the GHG Emissions Inventory is only up to date through 2015, the EEOS budget (p.225) mentions that GHG reductions for 2017 were unchanged from 2015. Thus, with only two years left to go, the achievement of Boston’s 2020 goal cannot be taken for granted. This strongly suggests that more urgent measures are needed.
The data we’ve presented so far have been community-wide (that is, for Boston as a whole). The GHG Emissions Inventory divides these community-wide GHG emissions into three segments: small residential buildings, commercial/industrial/large residential, and transportation. CCE would mostly affect small residential buildings. Electricity supply to most large organizations is covered by pre-existing contracts and would not become part of the CCE program.
GHG emissions by small residential buildings show the same concerning trend as the community-wide data: they steadily increased from 1.20 million metric tons in 2012 to 1.33 million metric tons in 2015 (No more recent public data are available.) In order to meet the 2020 goal, GHG levels in the small residential buildings segment would need to be cut by 150,000 tons from the 2015 levels. CCE would immediately cut 33,000 tons, or 22% of that goal, and may be able to reverse the upward trend.
In order to have a chance to limit the global average temperature increase, it is imperative that cities meet their pledged GHG emissions targets. Therefore, cities simply cannot afford to ignore or slow down any measures available to help meet their climate targets. Boston needs to implement CCE now!