Wednesday, May 22, 2024

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