Setting a baseline for Quincy’s greenhouse gas emissions


Harvard Extension School graduate student Vanessa Goh has done a huge service to Quincy by preparing a greenhouse gas inventory and mitigation plan as a capstone project for her Master of Liberal Arts in Sustainability. This type of report – Quincy’s first ever – helps set a baseline for all the sources of our community’s greenhouse gas emissions so that we can set future targets and create appropriate policies to meet them.

Ms. Goh will present her report to selected city officials and the public on January 9 at 6:30 pm in the lower level of Old City Hall at 1305 Hancock Street. In advance of the report’s release, QCAN asked her to fill us in on this exciting first step for Quincy.

Please tell us about your project and how you got started.
A greenhouse gas (GHG) inventory and mitigation plan are essential parts in any community climate-action planning process. In the spring of 2019, I worked with Quincy’s energy and sustainability director, Shelly Dein, to develop a GHG inventory for the Thomas Crane Public Library as part of my GHG Accounting course. Shelly was interested in developing a community-wide GHG inventory to better understand the city’s primary emission sources. In the summer of 2019, I began developing the community-wide GHG inventory and the supplementary GHG mitigation plan as my final capstone project for the Master of Liberal Arts in Sustainability degree program at Harvard Extension School. The reports took about six months to complete.

Could you explain what the report contains?
My report contains two parts. The first is an inventory that quantifies Quincy’s GHG emissions from various citywide activities in 2018. It is meant to help local government leaders and community members understand how their emissions are generated and enable effective decision making. It was developed using the Global Protocol for Community-Scale Greenhouse Gas Emission Inventories (GPC). The inventory quantifies emissions by sector and activity, sets science-based reduction targets, and forecasts future emission scenarios in order to help the city prioritize and implement effective emission mitigation strategies.

The second part is a greenhouse gas mitigation plan that provides a preliminary road map on how Quincy can reduce its impact on climate change while improving the lives of its residents. It utilizes the GHG inventory, feedback from stakeholders, and relevant research to identify concrete local actions that will reduce community-wide emissions. It also contains a road map for the city to develop a holistic climate action plan in the future.

How will this help Quincy?  How will it help the planet?
Anthropogenic emissions of GHGs are the largest contributors to global climate change with cities contributing roughly 70% of the world’s energy-related GHGs. Quincy is particularly vulnerable to climate change and has been experiencing its impacts through erratic temperatures, devastating floods, and extreme weather events. Additionally, the Quincy area is also experiencing some of the worst rush-hour traffic in the nation, dealing with an aging building stock, and experiencing a large amount of new development.  

Climate action planning holistically addresses these issues by providing a strategic framework in which cities can measure and reduce GHGs and related climate impacts. A GHG inventory and mitigation plan are essential building blocks within this process. Taking action to reduce GHGs will not only minimize the city’s negative impact on the climate, but enhance the lives of its residents, whether through reduced traffic, lower energy costs, or improved public health. The inventory and mitigation plan will help the city implement, enable, and inspire community-wide climate action that will benefit not only current residents, but future generations to come.

How does this compare to what other cities are doing or have done?
Surrounding cities such as Boston, Cambridge, Somerville, Dedham, Medford, and Brookline have all developed GHG inventories. Additionally, Boston, Somerville, and Cambridge have all set ambitious net-zero emissions targets in order to help avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

Many cities in Massachusetts have developed or are developing climate action plans by engaging community members and other local stakeholders. Municipal climate planning is slowly becoming more commonplace as cities are increasingly experiencing the effects of climate change as well as the growing cultural momentum towards climate action.

Could you tell us a bit about your experience doing the project?
One of the surprising discoveries during this experience was the willingness of people to help with the project. For example, multiple members of the Metropolitan Area Planning Council provided data analysis and offered their expertise on climate planning, all on their own time. Sustainability directors from surrounding cities offered their support and allowed me to pick their brains on their GHG inventories and net-zero planning processes. Additionally, QCAN members provided extremely beneficial feedback and resources during the development of the mitigation plan. There were so many people who supported and dedicated their time to this project, even without a financial incentive. It gave me hope for the climate and hope for the future.

This project has been a huge learning experience, especially on the power of municipal governments to mitigate their climate impact. Projects like these usually span multiple years, so completing it in six months took many long days of research, analysis, and outreach. I am extremely passionate about this work and what it could mean for Quincy, and though the reports may be “done,” the hard work is not. I will continue to be a resource for the city and its residents in their future climate action endeavors.