King County would aim to cut greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030 and 80% by 2050, while it simultaneously pushes to prepare for the inevitable disruptions of climate change, under an updated climate plan proposed Thursday by County Executive Dow Constantine.
But the new goals come even as the county has fallen far short of the interim emissions goals set in its last comprehensive climate plan, written five years ago.
The 2020 Strategic Climate Action Plan, which Constantine is submitting to the Metropolitan King County Council for approval, attempts to lay out a five-year blueprint to cut emissions, center environmental justice initiatives and prepare for things like hotter summers, less snowpack, sea-level rise and more frequent wildfires.
It builds on the county’s climate plan, first written in 2012 and updated in 2015. That 2015 update set a goal to reduce emissions by 25%, from 2007 levels, by 2020.
Complete 2020 emissions figures are not yet available, but the county is not going to make that goal.
From 2008 to 2017, the most recent year with comprehensive figures available, countywide emissions fell by only 1.6%, according to county figures. Per capita emissions fell significantly more, by over 11%, but population growth offset much of those reductions.
“Progress has been made toward the countywide emission reduction goal over the past decade, but work remains to be done,” said Matt Kuharic, a county climate change specialist. Kuharic said if the county accomplished larger emissions decreases in 2020, the decline would be driven by the coronavirus pandemic and economic slowdown, and would be unsustainable.
The city of Seattle has also repeatedly failed to meet its own climate goals over the years as emissions have increased with the region’s population.
The new 329-page county plan, nonetheless, lays out ambitious benchmarks even as it pushes for measures to prepare for the effects of global climate change.
It lays out nine steps to achieve the countywide cuts it calls for, including implementing the state’s 100% clean energy law, strengthening building energy codes and reducing automobile trips. But not all the necessary actions identified by the plan are even in the county’s control. It calls for protecting federal vehicle efficiency standards, which have come under attack from the Trump administration.
And the plan calls for reducing energy use in buildings and industry, which comes overwhelmingly from private organizations. King County government itself is responsible for less than 2% of county emissions.
It calls for planting and protecting 3 million trees in the county by 2025, after planting 1 million trees over the last five years.
“Climate change is impacting King County today, deepening inequities and intensifying natural hazards – flooding, wildfires, extreme heat – that put people, our economy, and our environment at risk,” Constantine said in a prepared statement. “This next plan builds on our momentum, operating at a region-wide scale with a stronger commitment to climate justice.”
Amy Snover, director of the University of Washington’s Climate Impacts Group, lauded the plan as a new contribution in the field of climate change adaptation.
“The plan’s comprehensive approach to climate preparedness – including an emphasis on regional partnership, equitable climate action, building technical capacity, performance measurement, and incorporating climate preparedness into decision-making – provides the necessary foundation for effectively addressing climate change impacts in our region,” Snover said.
The plan, updated last in 2015, includes a new section on building “sustainable and resilient frontline communities.”
“At a time when our national government is failing us on climate, King County will keep leading the way with aggressive actions to reduce the pollution that causes climate change,” County Councilmember Dave Upthegrove said. The plan’s “focus on equity is so important to low-income and diverse communities in South King County, where people are hit hardest by pollution and climate impacts.”