Carbon Free Boston: Social equity report 2019
Boston University Institute for Sustainable Energy
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OVERVIEW: In January 2019, the Boston Green Ribbon Commission released its Carbon Free Boston: Summary Report, identifying potential options for the City of Boston to meet its goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2050. The report found that reaching carbon neutrality by 2050 requires three mutually-reinforcing strategies in key sectors: 1) deepen energy efficiency while reducing energy demand, 2) electrify activity to the fullest practical extent, and 3) use fuels and electricity that are 100 percent free of greenhouse gases (GHGs). The Summary Report detailed the ways in which these technical strategies will transform Boston’s physical infrastructure, including its buildings, energy supply, transportation, and waste management systems. The Summary Report also highlighted that it is how these strategies are designed and implemented that matter most in ensuring an effective and equitable transition to carbon neutrality. Equity concerns exist for every option the City has to reduce GHG emissions. The services provided by each sector are not experienced equally across Boston’s communities. Low-income families and families of color are more likely to live in residences that are in poor physical condition, leading to high utility bills, unsafe and unhealthy indoor environments, and high GHG emissions.1 Those same families face greater exposure to harmful outdoor air pollution compared to others. The access and reliability of public transportation is disproportionately worse in neighborhoods with large populations of people of color, and large swaths of vulnerable neighborhoods, from East Boston to Mattapan, do not have ready access to the city’s bike network. Income inequality is a growing national issue and is particularly acute in Boston, which consistently ranks among the highest US cities in regards to income disparities. With the release of Imagine Boston 2030, Mayor Walsh committed to make Boston more equitable, affordable, connected, and resilient. The Summary Report outlined the broad strokes of how action to reach carbon neutrality intersects with equity. A just transition to carbon neutrality improves environmental quality for all Bostonians, prioritizes socially vulnerable populations, seeks to redress current and past injustice, and creates economic and social opportunities for all. This Carbon Free Boston: Social Equity Report provides a deeper equity context for Carbon Free Boston as a whole, and for each strategy area, by demonstrating how inequitable and unjust the playing field is for socially vulnerable Bostonians and why equity must be integrated into policy design and implementation. This report summarizes the current landscape of climate action work for each strategy area and evaluates how it currently impacts inequity. Finally, this report provides guidance to the City and partners on how to do better; it lays out the attributes of an equitable approach to carbon neutrality, framed around three guiding principles: 1) plan carefully to avoid unintended consequences, 2) be intentional in design through a clear equity lens, and 3) practice inclusivity from start to finish.
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