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2015 Rating Red Pie chart showing King County rating green house gas emissions Graph showing direct GHG emissions by King County

GHG Emissions for all King County Residents and Businesses

About this indicator: Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions such as carbon dioxide and methane are the primary drivers of human caused climate change. This indicator focuses on measuring progress towards reducing all types of GHG emissions from all activities attributable to King County residents, businesses, and other entities. For detailed information about how King County Government is reducing emissions associated with government operations, see the KingStat Climate Protection Performance Measure.

King County, the City of Seattle, and the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency — with support from the U.S. Department of Energy - recently updated King County's community GHG emissions inventories and also developed a framework and methodology for more easily assessing progress toward meeting County GHG reduction goals. The 2012 Greenhouse Gas Emissions in King County Report includes an updated geographic-plus based 2008 inventory, a consumption-based 2008 inventory, an ongoing tracking framework, and several related deliverables. The report informs individuals, businesses, and local governments about the most important sources of community emissions and provides important new information relevant to addressing these sources. The tracking framework includes a "core" scope of emission sources that will be estimated annually using readily available data on local building energy, vehicle transportation, and waste. The geographic-plus inventory includes emissions associated with goods and services produced in King County (regardless of where they are consumed), whereas the consumption-based Inventory includes emissions associated with goods and services consumed here (regardless of where they are produced).

GHG Reduction Goals for the King County Region

The 2010 King County Strategic Plan established environmental sustainability as one of King County's eight goals. The plan outlines objectives to reduce climate pollution and prepare for the effects of climate change on the environment, human health and the economy and to minimize King County's operational environmental footprint.

Washington State Law RCW 70.235.020 requires that by 2020 Washington State reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels and that by 2050 emissions are further reduced to fifty percent below 1990 levels.

Graph showing direct GHG emissions by King County Graph showing direct GHG emissions by King County

The King County Comprehensive Plan directed that the county collaborate with other local governments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the region to eighty percent below 2007 levels by 2050 and incorporate climate change considerations into county plans, programs and projects among other related policies and goals.

Drivers: In King County, GHG emissions are primarily caused by fossil fuel use (gasoline and diesel) for transportation and to a lesser but significant extent to heat our buildings (natural gas and heating oil). Combusting fossil fuel (e.g. coal) to produce electricity is also a source of GHG emissions, although in King County, because of the prevalence of hydropower, this is less of a source than in many other regions. Other important sources include methane emissions from landfills, wastewater treatment, and livestock. King County is also responsible for emissions that occur outside of region in production and transport of goods and services that are consumed in the region.

Status: Data from the 2010 core emissions assessment for the King County region (all residents and businesses) show emissions increased roughly 1% since 2008 to 16.5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (million MTCO2e), primarily due to population growth. While overall emissions increased, per person annual greenhouse gas emissions that are part of the core measurement framework decreased roughly 2% compared to 2008 and are down almost 5% compared to 2003. Significant declines in per-person vehicle travel and slight declines building energy use help to explain the decrease in emissions per person.

Producing goods, food, and services contributes more than half of the GHG emissions associated with consumption in King County. This underscores the importance of purchasing habits on emissions. Simply by buying products, King County residents, governments, and businesses are contributing to climate change through the emissions released to make these products. Data from 2008 showed that over 60 percent or 34 million MTCO2e of King County's Consumption-based emissions are associated with producing goods and services, more than a quarter (15 million MTCO2e) are associated with using them (e.g. driving a car or using an appliance), and relatively small shares are associated with transporting, selling, and disposing them.

Existing response: King County has a long history of adopting policies and implementing strategies promoting environmental and economic sustainability and responding to climate change. The 2012 Strategic Climate Action Plan, 2012 Climate Motion and 2010 Energy Plan are recent examples. The climate change policy page summarizes the history of King County climate change related policy and legislation. The annual King County Sustainability Report, transmitted by King County Executive Dow Constantine each June, documents annual highlights and next steps related to these efforts. Additionally, many of King County's climate change related project and program accomplishments are highlighted on the King County Climate Change website.