Baker's climate goal not much of a step forward

For Immediate Release

Boston – In his State of the Commonwealth address Tuesday, Governor Charlie Baker announced a goal of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Ben Hellerstein, State Director for Environment Massachusetts, issued the following statement:

“While Governor Baker is touting his climate goal as a big step forward, it may represent little to no progress over the state's existing commitments.

“Massachusetts has already set a legally binding target of reducing global warming pollution by 80% by 2050. Changing our emissions goal from '80% reduction by 2050' to 'net zero by 2050' may make no difference in accelerating the Commonwealth's transition from fossil fuels to clean energy. Most of the additional emissions reductions could be met through dubious offsets and accounting changes.

“To ensure a safe and healthy future for us and our children, Massachusetts should shift to 100% renewable sources of energy as quickly as possible, before 2050.

“That’s why we’re supporting the 100% Renewable Energy Act, filed by Representative Marjorie Decker and Representative Sean Garballey. It’s the only bill that will put Massachusetts on track to eliminate the use of fossil fuels by 2045.

“Six states have already committed to transition to 100% carbon-free electricity. Let’s lead the way forward by going 100% renewable economy-wide. There’s no time to waste.”

More background:

The Decker/Garballey 100% Renewable Energy Act (H.2836) will transition Massachusetts to 100% renewable electricity by 2035, and 100% renewable energy for heating and transportation by 2045. A majority of legislators have cosponsored the bill or similar legislation filed in the Senate by Senator Jamie Eldridge (S.1958).

Six states have passed laws to eliminate the use of fossil fuels for electricity by 2050 or sooner. Last week, Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo committed her state to achieve 100% renewable electricity by 2030. Under existing laws, Massachusetts will not reach 100% renewable electricity until 2095.

The Global Warming Solutions Act, passed in 2008, requires Massachusetts to cut statewide global warming emissions by 80% by 2050. This requirement has been interpreted as an 80% reduction in the amount of carbon dioxide and other global warming pollutants we release, mostly from burning fossil fuels.

“Net zero emissions” targets generally allow for the use of carbon offsets. If Massachusetts sets a goal of net zero carbon emissions, some or all of the last 20% of emissions reduction could be met with offsets, including offsets that don’t represent any additional carbon reduction compared to the status quo.

For example, Massachusetts’ forests are estimated to absorb enough carbon to offset up to 14% of the state’s baseline carbon emissions. Therefore, if forest carbon sequestration is counted as an offset, net zero emissions could be reached with only 86% emissions reduction. If other offsets are included, the level of emissions reduction could be even lower. As a result, Massachusetts might continue to burn significant amounts of health-harming, climate-altering fossil fuels for decades to come.