State keeps pace with climate goals

Climate Chief Melissa Hoffer with Gov. Maura Healey in the foreground.

Climate Chief Melissa Hoffer with Gov. Maura Healey in the foreground. STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE


State House News Service

Published: 12-04-2023 2:49 PM

On the route to decarbonization, the state is so far on target with its goals, the Healey administration says, but there is more work to be done with the most intense period of rapid decarbonization quickly approaching.

Gov. Maura Healey’s administration released its first Climate Report Card on Friday, which includes data and assessments on the state’s progress on its climate resilience and environmental justice goals.

The administration plans to release the report card every year, which they call “a candid look at the Commonwealth’s progress to date” to “provide accountability to the public, advocates, lawmakers, and the state itself and inform the adoption of new strategies to reduce emissions.”

Massachusetts has committed to achieving reductions in greenhouse gas emissions of 33 percent by 2025, 50 percent by 2030, 75 percent by 2040 and at least 85 percent by 2050, all compared to the baseline of 1990 emissions.

The state was required to reduce carbon emissions by at least 25 percent from the 1990 baseline by 2020 and Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration determined that 2020 emissions were actually 31.4 percent below the 1990 level.

On the track to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, the steepest emissions reductions are set to occur between 2025 and 2030, said Katherine Antos, undersecretary of decarbonization and resilience at the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs.

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“That’s when the most action needs to be happening, so that we can reduce our greenhouse gas emissions across each of our sectors,” Antos told reporters on Thursday.

She added, “At the same time, in terms of resilience and adapting to climate change, as we saw this summer through extreme heat and through extreme precipitation events, those impacts are happening now. They’re affecting our residents, our businesses, our communities now. So we need to be taking the actions now to adapt to a changing climate and build resilience.”

Greenhouse gas emissions are used most often to measure progress, but with a two-to-three year lag in this data, the climate report card turns to other quantitative measures.

Data show that the transportation sector was the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Massachusetts, at 37 percent, the report says, and shifting to increase the availability of electric vehicles will be important to meeting the state’s target that 100 percent of 2035 light-duty vehicles sales be electric.

“The [Clean Energy and Climate Plan] anticipated that progress electrifying medium and heavy-duty vehicles would be slow before implementation of the Advanced Clean Truck rule begins in 2024, and this prediction has proven true,” it says. “Finally, total Vehicle Miles Travelled (VMT), a key indicator of mode shift, is still significantly below pre-COVID levels, but has increased since 2020 as the economy rebounds. Continued progress building housing near public transportation, improving the performance of the MBTA and regional transit agencies, and investments in multimodal infrastructure and technologies such as e-bikes will be critical to limiting VMT growth.”

The report says there were 70,689 electric light-duty vehicles on the road in 2022. This exceeds the estimate in the state’s climate plan, that there would be about 60,000 in 2022. The plan sets a target of 200,000 electric vehicles on the road by 2025 and 900,000 by 2030.

The climate targets also estimate the need for 15,000 public charging station ports by 2025 and 75,000 by 2030 — as of Thursday, there were 6,436.

“We are seeing more and more electric vehicles on the road each year, we’re seeing a tripling of our EV rebates to support residents in purchasing those electric vehicles. So we are seeing those indicators move in the direction that we want them to move, as we know that acceleration will need to continue to occur through 2025 to 2030,” Antos said.

EVs cost more up front than gas-powered vehicles, and the report identifies this as the greatest barrier for low-income drivers. Additionally, one-third of Massachusetts residents do not have off-street parking, making it more difficult to charge vehicles.

The Department of Energy Resources recently rolled out an upgraded MOR-EV rebate program, and additional rebates for low-income households. As of Nov. 1, 2023, light-duty vehicle rebates had almost tripled compared to 2022, the report says.

“DOER will be determining whether additional rebate adjustments may make EVs more accessible, particularly to income-restricted drivers,” it says.

The building sector is the second largest source of emissions, at 35 percent. The state has recently begun rolling out policies to try to contain emissions related to the building sector, such as reforming building codes and encouraging heat pump installations.

“The sector is currently on track or leading in all categories as compared to expectations and modeled analytics, but significant, new interventions are needed to meet upcoming 2025 and 2030 targets,” the report says.

Nationwide, heat pump sales exceeded gas-powered furnace sales by over 10 percent for the first time in 2022. Heat pumps reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 20 percent compared with a gas boiler, and can be as large as an 80 percent reduction, according to the International Energy Agency.

“Residential heat pump installations through Mass Save rebate offerings in 2022 and in the first half of 2023 have been above expectations, particularly for former natural gas customers, and we are now at about 30% of our 2025 target even before accounting for installations outside of Mass Save such as those done within municipal light plant territories,” the report says. “Heat pump installations through Mass Save have also been accelerating, nearly tripling from 2021 to 2022 and on track to be over 3.5 times greater in 2023.”

The report card also includes a section on Massachusetts’ “natural and working lands,” which they say absorb more carbon than they emit — though the state loses several thousands acres of this natural land, particularly forests, each year.

As of 2022, 27 percent of the state was permanently protected. The state’s climate goals seek to increase permanent conservation to at least 28 percent by 2025, at least 30 percent by 2030 and at least 40 percent by 2050.

“EEA and its agencies have been permanently conserving an average of about 10,000 acres annually over the past five years, but the Commonwealth needs to double the pace of conservation to achieve the conservation goals in the CECPs. Doubling the pace of conservation will require consistent long-term funding for land acquisition, incentives for more privately-owned forests and farms to be protected with conservation easements, and full and equitable compensation to hosts of conserved land,” the report says.

EEA has an annual budget of about $25 million for land conservation, and plans to use more than $50 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding for land conservation. The department also is exploring ways to limit natural land loss to development through incentives and regulations.

“There has been a lot of work done there to understand how different types of forests and how different types of land use — what they can store and what they can sequester — and also looking at restoration, where are there areas where there’s the greatest per acre benefit in terms of increasing sequestration? So it’s an area where we have done quite a bit of research,” Antos said.

The state climate chief, a position that Healey created at the beginning of her term, called for the annual climate report card in recommendations she made to the governor in October.

Chief Melissa Hoffer wrote that the report card would “enhance transparency” as “there is enormous public concern about climate change and interest in executive branch actions to reduce emissions and make our communities more resilient to the impacts of climate change.”