clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

A carbon-neutral Boston by 2050 would require congestion pricing, tens of thousands of building retrofits: Report

City-commissioned report also says Boston should build up its downtown to cut down on commutes


A new report that Boston officials say they will use to plot the city’s plan for combatting climate change includes charging motorists to drive into certain parts of Boston, building up several downtown neighborhoods, and converting tens of thousands of buildings to electric power.

The recommendations were released on January 29 by the Boston Green Ribbon Commission, a group of business, institutional, and civic leaders that the Walsh administration requested feedback from in 2016.

The recommendations—and the city’s plan for climate change, which it’s expected to devise over the next year—are aimed at helping Boston go carbon-neutral by midcentury. It’s an ambitious goal, and one that will involve immense changes beyond simply planting more trees or charging for single-use plastic bags (which the city already facilitates).

Take buildings, for instance. Boston’s 86,000 account for three-fourths of total city emissions and most of the buildings that will be standing in 2050 already exist—meaning they will have to be retrofitted and converted to electric power, according to the Globe’s Milton J. Valencia (“electrify as much possible”—that is the second of three main strategies the report lists).

Private property owners would be doing most of that work, which means the city would likely have to incentivize them to do so—or penalize them for not doing so.

Or transportation. Congestion pricing—charging motorists for driving into busier parts of the city at certain times—has long been controversial, but that might be one of the more easily implemented transportation changes necessary to making Boston carbon neutral. Far fewer people would have to drive, period, the report notes, and mass transit and the city’s biking infrastructure would have to be greatly expanded to really make a dent.

What’s more, the city would have to facilitate the construction of more housing near mass transit and commercial areas to cut down on the volume of commuting by car. From the Boston Green Ribbon Commission report, called “Carbon Free Boston”:

The future demand for travel in Boston will be determined in part by the proximity of population growth to public transit and walking. The city can increase transit mode share by directing future population growth into areas that are centrally located, walkable, and transit-rich.

This includes all or parts of Downtown, Mission Hill, South Boston, Roxbury, Back Bay, Allston, the South End, the South Boston waterfront, and the Longwood medical areas. Our analysis integrated this opportunity by assuming that three-quarters of population growth through 2050 will occur in these areas compared with the anticipated 30 percent of citywide population growth expected in these neighborhoods.

Interestingly, the commission is not just pitching these big changes as a way to combat the effects of climate change and to help the environment.

As the report makes clear, cutting the city’s private and public energy use would save dollars—many, many dollars: “The citywide cost of energy in 2050 could decline by an estimated $600 million, providing a particularly important benefit to low-income households for whom energy costs comprise a larger fraction of their budget.”

That savings could then be pumped into other areas of the local economy, the report says. Thoughts?