Climate Action Plan logo

Climate Action Plan logo

On Monday, June 17, the Council unanimously adopted an update to Seattle’s Climate Action Plan that sets Seattle on a course towards our goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2050. I proposed adopting the ambitious ‘Carbon Neutral by 2050’ goal as a Council priority in 2010, and legislation accepting the goal was approved by the Council in 2011. This plan update provides the framework for implementation.

The carbon neutral goal was originally proposed by Seattle environmental leaders like Denis Hayes and Alex Steffen as the impacts of global warming and climate change became clearer and clearer, the need for strong action more urgent, and the critical role for cities more apparent. The increasing resistance to scientific evidence on the part of the Republican Party has made it impossible for Congress to take action, and it has become clear that even the election of a President who sought action on climate change has not ended the paralysis of our federal government in the face of this grave threat to our future. So, as is so often the case, cities have stepped up to the plate to take up the slack. Although Seattle is a leader in addressing climate, we are not alone in this effort, and action on climate change has become a major legislative priority for the National League of Cities.

Cities are critical to changing our climate impact. Compact cities with sustainable buildings and efficient transportation alternatives use much less energy and emit much less carbon per capita than sprawling suburbs. The increased urbanization of central cities and inner suburbs is our best hope for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The question is how to do it, and that is dependent on both national policies like requiring higher mile per gallon (MPG) standards for vehicles and funding transit, and on local policies that leverage these national standards by designing and building/rebuilding cities that are attractive and efficient. The new Climate Action Plan puts in place the practical steps that will enable Seattle to be a model for achieving carbon neutrality.

Our Office of Sustainability and Environment (OSE), with the support of a wide range of advisors from the community, created a plan that will take us there. The Council’s Energy and Environment Committee, under the leadership of Councilmember Mike O’Brien, worked hard to not only vet and approve that plan, but to create an action plan for the next two years. While we agreed that the plan produced by OSE laid out a plausible path for the future, we wanted to add the specifics that would keep our momentum going and get the actions underway.

The Plan focuses on three sectors where the City of Seattle can have the greatest impact in reducing carbon emissions: transportation and land use, energy use in buildings, and solid waste. It also includes a section on how the City can manage the impacts of the climate disruption that we are already experiencing, and suggestions as to how the community can take individual actions to reduce emissions. The complete plan can be found at

The Council asked for an implementation plan to be submitted by September 30, 2013, to:

A. Identify the lead department, implementation schedule, and critical decisions needed to implement each action;

B. Outline a community involvement strategy including identifying partnerships and resources needed for implementation of the strategy; and

C. Evaluate the actions requiring state legislative authority and identify priorities for the City’s 2014 State Legislative Agenda.

The Council also asked for a schedule, outline of policy decisions, and resource needs to:

A. Develop a comprehensive adaptation strategy;

B. Work with regional and state partners to adopt a funding strategy to meet current and future transportation funding needs;

C. Develop a citywide transit communities strategy including creation of equitable development policies that support growth and development near transit without displacement and strategies that provide for the retention and creation of affordable commercial space and family sized housing in transit communities;

D. Research the benefits of pricing policies on climate protection, transportation and community goals;

E. Develop and begin implementation of a coordinated land use and transportation plan in a high-priority transit and bicycle corridor (such as Ballard to Downtown) with a goal of shifting more trips to travel modes that generate fewer or no greenhouse gas emissions;

F. Include health, safety, and equity outcomes in transportation and land use planning building on the Healthy Living Assessment project;

G. Consider a transportation modal hierarchy as part of the 2015 Comprehensive Plan Update in order to address climate greenhouse gas reductions, safety, mobility and funding priorities;

H. Based on a comprehensive review of the Community Power Works program, transition the Community Power Works — Home pilot program to an established program that assists homeowners with energy efficiency upgrades;

I. Expand district energy systems on First Hill and into the South Lake Union and Denny Triangle neighborhoods;

J. Pilot a utility incentive program that would pay for actual energy savings over time instead of providing up-front payment for projected savings;

K. Evaluate opportunities (including pilot projects) for the energy code to focus on total energy performance instead of prescriptive requirements;

L. Require buildings undergoing major renovation or change of use to come close to the energy performance requirement for new buildings; and

M. Develop and test a program for rating and disclosing home energy performance.

This implementation plan will be the practical, specific, detailed approach to getting where we need to go.

Making Seattle carbon neutral is an audacious goal that takes time, hard work, creativity, and the commitment of the City, business community and Seattle residents. We have laid out the path to meet this preeminent moral challenge of our time and we will lead the way to secure the future for generations to come.