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Boston Climate Action Plan update requires new city-owned buildings be carbon-neutral

The Walsh administration’s change is aimed at steering the entire city toward carbon neutrality by 2050

A view from the waterfront of several tall, glassy buildings clustered together. Shutterstock

New standards that would require that all newly constructed city-owned buildings in Boston be carbon neutral could be in place in 18 months under a proposed change in the city’s zoning. Mayor Marty Walsh’s administration is rolling out the proposal this week.

The administration is pitching the directive—which Walsh is expected to sign after he attends the C40 Mayors Climate Summit in Copenhagen October 9 to 12—as an update to the city’s Climate Action Plan, which aims to aid Boston in its goal of going entirely carbon-neutral by midcentury.

City-owned buildings built after the standards are in place will have to meet them through either efficiencies or the use of renewable energy, or through offsetting any emissions. The change would not effect buildings currently under construction.

The update also includes a call for new regulations that would require owners of large buildings to retrofit them to reduce carbon emissions to zero by 2050.

These changes come less than 10 months after the Boston Green Ribbon Commission, a group of business, institutional, and civic leaders that the Walsh administration formed in 2016, released a set of recommendations to guide Boston toward that carbon-neutral goal.

Those recommendations included converting tens of thousands of buildings to electric power. 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.