Seattle – Carbon Neutral by 2050

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This morning the Council received a briefing on the technical analysis of what a carbon neutral scenario would look like for Seattle.

The Office of Sustainability and Environment, in partnership with the Stockholm Environment Institute presented their analysis.  They had three primary goals:

1)      Define the carbon neutral goal;

2)      Develop and emission reduction scenario to achieve that goal; and

3)      Launch a climate action planning process to outline a policy path to achieve the necessary reductions.

For the carbon neutral goal, they recommended we shoot for zero net emissions by 2050.

Next they developed an emission reduction scenario to achieve that goal.  Following a path of aggressive implementation of existing technology, this scenario would result in an 87% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050.  It’s the first take of what’s possible and it will be our job to complete a more in depth economic and political feasibility analysis, and ultimately a strategy to offset the last 13% of carbon emission by 2050.

This chart shows the carbon reduction path for major emission sectors that city government has the greatest ability to control: commercial and residential building energy and passenger and freight road transportation.



Change from 2008 in total emissions:

2020 – 30% reduction

2030 – 58% reduction

2050 – 87% reduction




In each of these sector areas, the analysis focuses on both on how we create less GHG producing activity (e.g. driving less) and how we make the same activities cleaner  (e.g. switching to cleaner fuels).

OSE acknowledge that there is also a large piece of the puzzle not encompassed in this plan, including “consumption” emissions focused on business and resident actions, for which emissions occur outside of the city (such as products produced elsewhere but consumed in Seattle).

The scenario is built on bold assumptions.  For example, in transportation, it assumes a rapid and extensive increase in transit and that 80% of vehicles are electric by 2050.  Some of these issues will clearly require state and federal policy change.  Meanwhile, there is much we can do at the local level – OSE reminded us that for example that there is a lot the city can do around land use and urban form to impact how much, and how far people drive.

So what’s next?

OSE is preparing to launch a climate action planning process in September when we have a chance to further analyze the ideas we have heard from the community, alongside this scenario, to create a policy path forward for the next 5-6 years.

I also want to note that this weekend I hosted a panel on Green Jobs at the Green Festival with colleagues who are working hard to ensure this “green” policy and economic activity is developed in a way that creates living wage jobs and career pathways that strengthen our communities.  I’ll post more thoughts on this later in the week.

We have a lot of hard work ahead, but I’m excited that this technical work takes us a step closer to becoming a carbon neutral city.