Cambridge has a chance to address climate crisis with strong Beudo amendments in coming vote
U.N. secretary-general António Guterres recently warned, “The climate time bomb is ticking.” New scientific analyses indicate that irreversible levels of global warming may occur in the next decade. Urgent action of all kinds is needed, globally and locally, to help avoid a catastrophic cascade of events. And meanwhile, around the world and right here in Cambridge, the ongoing effects of climate change are disproportionately borne by low-income communities and communities of color, as well as by the elderly and young children.
The good news is that we have the tools at hand to address it.
Here in Cambridge, we have a historic opportunity to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions 50 percent by 2035. For the sake of our community and our children, we should act on it.
The Building Energy Use Disclosure Ordinance enacted in 2014 requires large buildings in Cambridge – those 25,000 square feet or larger – to report their energy use annually. These buildings collectively are responsible for more than half of the city’s total emissions. The hope was that annual reporting would result in emissions reductions. Unfortunately, building emissions, especially from commercial and institutional buildings, have continued to rise.
The city’s Net Zero Action Plan Task Force first raised the need to amend Beudo to require emissions reductions in 2020. The Community Development Department calculated potential impacts, noting that amending Beudo to require emissions cuts was the single most consequential action Cambridge could take to address climate change.
After more than a year of debate, proposed Beudo amendments will be presented, discussed and possibly voted on 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday in a City Council Ordinance Committee hearing. A follow-up meeting is scheduled for the next day.
A strong set of amendments would require owners of buildings 25,000 square feet or larger to begin reducing their emissions gradually to reach net zero by 2035, with reasonable flexibility for meeting that goal. Strong amendments would also limit the use of global offsets, whose efficacy has been questioned and whose impact, if any, is not felt locally.
It is concerning that many large building owners have been pushing back hard against strong Beudo amendments. Some have argued that a proposed 2035 target date is too soon. Some have voiced the desire to use global offsets for decades rather than cut their own emissions here in Cambridge. It is surprising that well-resourced developers and international corporations, not to mention universities whose endowments surpass the gross domestic product of many countries, should make these arguments.
It is shocking that they want to make wide use of cheaper and often questionable global offsets as opposed to investments in decarbonizing the city where they do business. The alternative, working to reduce emissions locally, would have many positive outcomes, including improving the health of their employees and their families and growing a green local economy.
Gutteres has called us all to task: “Commitments to net zero are worth zero without the plans, policies and actions to back it up,” he declared. “Our world cannot afford any more greenwashing, fake movers or late movers. We must close the emissions gap before climate catastrophe closes in on us all.”
Beudo is a sensible and cost-effective policy. It is a targeted approach that addresses the largest emitters. Just as we as individuals take responsibility for small and large steps in our own lives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Cambridge and its large commercial and institutional building owners must take responsibility for reducing their emissions by 2035.
If you agree, please contact the city councillors before the Ordinance Committee meeting on Wednesday to advocate for strong Beudo amendments.
Margery Davies, Elena Fagotto, Lowry Hemphill, Kristine Jelstrup, Hannah Mahoney and Amy Oliver for Cambridge Mothers Out Front
while the goal is commendable, indeed necessary, the problem lies with implementation and consequences of compliance by older residential buildings. The question in ANYTHING proposed by the city is HOW– Something that at times is rarely asked.
80% of green house gases are generated by buildings. 20% of that is by residential. Of that 1.7% are Condominiums. BEUDO had arbitrarily targeting Condominiums with over 50 units, thinking that because they have management companies, they have the finances and organization to retrofit vintage 100 yr old steam heat/ radiator/ boiler systems to 100% electric. This doesn’t take into account re-pointing, leaks, paint, plumbing, electrical, emergencies and other assessment-producing maintenance costs running into millions. Unit owners and trustees never even heard of BEUDO until a notice was sent around by a third party in fall of 2021. BEUDO was well underway.
60% or more of Cambridge’s housing stock is vintage and turn of the century, meaning old systems and each with their own pressures and quirkiness. In order to retrofit pipes and ducts to 100% wiring throughout (maybe 5-8 stories worth), people would be displaced for at least 2 years while walls are ripped open for new systems. In many instances, older buildings have sub-par electric capacity half of what is code today. Further, Eversource says it may not have the capacity for retrofitting by some of these deadlines and those bigger buildings may have to find ways to create their own power sources through individual transformers and bunkers in open space around the building (assuming you have open space). One neighboring newly renovated building’s transformer for 27 units cost around $750,000.
Technology for retrofitting steam/ radiator systems/ gas/ oil to 100% electric is basically non-existent. Heat Pumps may not work in some buildings. We do not have the technology which is constantly changing.
“… right here in Cambridge, the ongoing effects of climate change are disproportionately borne by low-income communities and communities of color, as well as by the elderly and young children”.
Also included are retired, fixed income, first responders, teachers, middle class who can’t possibly absorb the estimated $25,000-80,000 per (privately owned) unit. Suggested subsidies of $10,000 by council tells us that no realistic cost analysis has been done. Resident displacement is very real and some may be forced to move. Benefits from net zero efforts may be seen as far down the road as in 20-30 yrs from now. HOW can we bear the cost now? However, that doesn’t mean the effort shouldn’t be tried.
Each older building with individual needs has to consider what is plausible, efficient and cost effective. Help subsidize winterizing windows, insulate, and help homeowners do their bit the best they can. GHG may be up because of the amount of development happening. Seasoned vintage housing does not add to the landfill. But also, true ideological net zero can only be reached by new construction controlling all aspects of engineering.
This is why Cambridge has to come up with a holistic plan which recognizes counter-productive goals and unintended consequences while trying to move forward. 100% electric for new construction? Great! they have time to plan and budget. But retro-fitting older buildings is a hardship needing help or we lose generational and long term residents while rents rise to off-set retro-fitting.
I agree with the authors of this op-ed. Wait until the staff and students at MIT and Harvard find out the schools are opposing measures to require reduction in greenhouse gas emissions!
Regarding implementing BEUDO in residential buildings, I think it would be good to create a separate ordinance for residential that addresses the concerns raised by pete in his comment.
Let’s get started on reductions from the biggest polluters now. Pass BEUDO now, and keep the 2035 target date for all large commercial buildings to reach Net Zero emissions, and keep the limitations on the use of global carbon offsets.
It is easy to agree with people who only graze an issue. This is not a Harvard or MIT issue though Mothers Out Front and the Cambridge Residents Alliance seem to think everyone is dumb enough to think this. How little these two groups must think of everyone affected. They ignore the fact that Eversource has no way to create enough capacity for any of this to work on the 2035 timeline. They ignore the regional implications of Cambridge sucking up 40% of Eversource’s capital budget to “green” Cambridge and ignore that roughly 85% of electricity generated comes from fossil fuels. They ignore the lack of space for transformer, switchgear, and the displacement upgrading buildings will cause. They ignore that MIT/Harvard and the “well resourced” aren’t the only one’s affected by this ordinance. Residential property owners and owners of smaller commercial are all going to be decimated by relentless BEUDO tax foisted upon them. They imagine that it is merely capital that prevents building owners from ripping out their heating systems and offending infrastructure or worse that it is monstrous greed that prevent all of us from flicking a switch and becoming net zero. The truth, as always, is more nuanced and has many more implications not just for buildings owners and residential and commercial tenants. There are wide implications for neighboring municipalities that will have to be ripped through to accommodate our new transmission lines and local implications of where the four new substations will have to be placed along with 2000 transformers and 17 light substations … not to mention the building level adjustments that will, in some places, require first floor commercial tenants to be vacated. Getting to net zero is going to be hard and most of that will be carried by small property owners and commercial tenants which is why, yet again, not a single large lab corporation has protested this. The people advocating for this have the easiest job among us. They can be loud, use hyperbole, but in the end they literally have to do nothing. If we want BEUDO to work we need a set of rules that can be complied with … but please do not be fooled by these advocacy groups … it isn’t big corporations or MIT or Harvard that will suffer these regulation it will be everyone else.
These people have no interest in hearing about your rational comments. They have an agenda and nothing will get in the way. They refuse to acknowledge that the sources of electricity are mostly fossil fuel based. They refuse to acknowledge that the mining of the elements that are needed for electricity are fossil fuel based.
Cambridge can do anything it wants to try to stop climate change and pollution. However, the City Council and many residents do not realize the cost it will take to essentially fight a losing battle. Until China and India stop using fossil fuels i.e. coal, all Cambridge is doing is virtue signalling.
Let me guess. None of the wonderful cheerleaders to this resolution live in housing affected by this. Correct?
Unless you have skin in the game, you are just virtue-signaling your righteousness.
As said above – you uproot other people’s lives and spend millions of dollars of other people’s money (without even knowing if results can be delivered) so “you” can claim to have done “your” part, but this is nothing better than building a sand castle for millions of dollars.
All I can do it laugh when I read something like this and want to sit back and watch the liberals out-liberal each other!
The deep irony here is that this will do NOTHING to address the climate crisis and may even exacerbate it by depriving other municipalities funds they need to catch up and push our local electric use up to peak in both summer and winter burning even more fossil fuels downstream than we do now.
As someone who testified in favor of the strongest BEUDO emissions standards, bravo to the people demanding action on the climate crisis. The biggest polluters in Cambridge are large buildings and they must do something to meaningfully reduce their greenhouse gases. Ignore the people trying to delay any action; we do have solar and wind and can deploy them to cover all our needs, and we can insulate the buildings, and we can spool more wires across the state. Please pass the amendment now and enforce them.