Weekly Wonder: City of Boston Greenhouse Gas Emissions have been trending down

"co2" by twicepix is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

By Stella Lorence
Boston University News Service

Greenhouse gases emitted by the City of Boston are declining again after experiencing a spike from their lowest point in 2012.

Local government operations averaged over 2,300 tons of CO₂-equivalent greenhouse gas emissions in 2018, according to city data for the most recent year available, a 17% decrease from 2017.

CO₂-equivalent is the standard measure for greenhouse gas emissions, calculated by dividing each ton of greenhouse gas by its global warming potential.

Emissions decreased almost 70% between the highest point in 2005, the first year of available data, and the lowest point in 2012. They increased again until 2016 and have been falling ever since.

According to the data, Boston Public Schools release the most greenhouse gases by far, topping the list every year of available data and more than doubling the total of the second highest emitter: the Public Works Department.

Boston’s local government operations greenhouse gas emissions are declining again after a spike in 2016. Graphic by Stella Lorence/BU News Service, Source: Analyze Boston

The vast majority of emissions from BPS comes from the electricity and natural gas use in its buildings, a trend mirrored across the other departments. According to the city’s greenhouse gas emissions inventory, BPS owns and operates about three-quarters of the city’s 16 million square feet of building space across the roughly 127 school buildings in the district.

In 2018, emissions from buildings made up 70% of Boston’s greenhouse gas emissions, with over 90,000 tons of CO₂-equivalent emissions. 

Vehicle emissions from the 700-bus BPS fleet also make up a large portion of the department’s total, though an initiative is underway to replace the oldest diesel buses with propane-engine buses. Over half the fleet has been replaced as of 2020, according to Boston’s latest climate action report. 

Initiatives such as the school bus replacement are part of Boston’s 2019 Climate Action Plan, an update to the 2017 plan that established the goal of carbon net neutrality by 2050. The plan outlines steps to advance that goal for the next five years.

Boston Public Schools have the highest emissions every year by far, more than double the next highest department. The majority of BPS emissions come from electricity and natural gas used in the buildings. Graphic by Stella Lorence/BU News Service, Source: Analyze Boston

Of the 97 initiatives for reducing climate pollution, 11 have already been completed. Roughly half are in progress, and the rest have not been started yet. Only one, a complete inventory of the Downtown parking freeze, has been delayed while it undergoes quality control.

Acting Mayor Kim Janey has picked up where Marty Walsh, now the U.S. Secretary of Labor, left off in the push for climate action. On Monday, April 19, she appointed Rev. Mariama White-Hammond as chief of environment, energy and open space. White-Hammond is the founding pastor of New Roots AME Church in Dorchester and a leader in the Boston community’s push for environmental justice.

“Reverend Mariama White-Hammond is an advocate, facilitator and pastor who has extensive experience in creating a more just, inclusive and sustainable Boston,” Janey said in a statement. “I am confident that Rev. White-Hammond is the right person to accelerate our efforts around environmental justice while expanding our green jobs pipeline and helping us achieve our goal of carbon neutrality, all of which are critical elements of our recovery and renewal agenda.”

Two weeks ago, Janey released her administration’s proposed budget for the next fiscal year, including over 100 million dollars for climate-related projects.

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