Boston Climate Progress Report 2022

November 3, 2022

The Boston Foundation hosted a virtual forum to discuss The Inaugural Boston Climate Progress Report, a first-of-its-kind report on Boston’s collective progress toward being a carbon-neutral city by 2050. The report was prepared for the Boston Foundation by researchers at Northeastern University’s Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy, and findings spotlight that while the city has made notable progress in some areas, a variety of obstacles will make meeting that goal difficult.

After a welcome from Boston Foundation Board Director and State Street President and CEO Ron O’Hanley, Ted Landsmark introduced the lead authors of the Inaugural Boston Climate Progress Report to present highlights of their research. Landsmark, Director of the Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy at Northeastern University, added a personal reflection that echoed elements of the report. He said he appreciated the findings from three approaches: as a professor of public policy, surrounded by students and others who feel the urgency of the climate crisis; as a policymaker with the Boston Planning & Development Agency, having to balance revenue generation vs. environmental impact in private development in Boston; and as a homeowner, making efficiency improvements and realizing how their scope and complexity can put them out of reach for most residents. The report stresses the overlapping fields in which our climate progress must play out, and that people across multiple roles must be part of the work.

Joan Fitzgerald, Professor of Public Policy and Urban Affairs at the Dukakis Center, and Michael Walsh, Partner & Director of Policy Research at Groundwork Data, shared a few key points from their comprehensive report, including where Boston is doing well and where it needs to ramp up efforts. As Fitzgerald noted, Boston now has multiple plans for elements of climate change mitigation and preparedness, and is one of few cities in the country that assesses its own progress on climate action plans. This report goes beyond assessing numbers of emissions reduced versus reductions planned, and identifies what barriers are slowing our progress. It finds nine common obstacles, from funding gaps and technical feasibility to conflicting interests and inertia. These get in the way of achieving a dozen outcomes the authors defined as key to advancing on Boston’s three basic goals: emissions reduction, climate resilience, and equity. Any number of “big lifts”—long-term, ambitious, interdisciplinary efforts to make systems changes—are called for to push through these obstacles and the report offers four to prioritize: electrifying Boston’s small buildings, strengthening the local energy grid (to handle all the coming electrification), building coastal resilience, and reparative planning for frontline communities.

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Title slide: The Boston Foundation Inaugural Boston Climate Progress Report. Research Presentation. November 3, 2022. Click here to view the presentation

While challenges abound, the authors completed their project with a sense of hope. Buoyed by state and federal legislation in August 2022 supporting climate action, and framed by a mayoral administration seeking a Green New Deal for Boston, the region is at what Walsh called a “pivot point.” With new funding and renewed will, we can turn to this work more seriously, with all hands on deck—government at all levels, the private sector, and community members aligning to support and achieve Boston’s climate goals. Following the data presentation, TBF Vice President of Communications and Public Affairs Keith Mahoney moderated a rich conversation among individuals working across these spheres: GreenRoots Associate Executive Director María Belén Power, The Rose Kennedy Greenway Executive Director (and former City of Boston Chief of Environment, Energy & Open Space) Chris Cook, and 548 Capital Founder & CEO AJ Patton. Belén Power shared the view from Chelsea, where community organizing is under way to develop a local energy grid and heat mitigation; Cook shared the view from downtown, where the Greenway links neighborhoods as it provides urban green space and waterfront resilience, and Patton shared the view from Chicago, Ill., where his company builds energy-efficient and affordable housing and develops community-based green businesses in the process.

All spoke to the intersectionality of problems and of the required solutions, with the drive for equity a thread running throughout. As Patton noted, “The communities most hurt by the climate crisis are often left out of the solutions—both in the planning and the resulting business opportunities.” Belén Power pointed to the moral imperative: “We can reduce carbon dioxide overall, but if what’s left is all still concentrated in hotspots where poor people live, we haven’t succeeded.” Cook agreed, seeing work on climate issues entirely meshed with other priorities around racial and social justice, and taking hope from that connectivity. “Big lifts create big opportunities. With coalitions and collaboratives, putting together community members, city leaders and civic organizations, we won’t just prevent harm but bring real benefits. If we can approach a ‘wicked problem’ with creativity, we can beat it. And it’ll be good for business too.”