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Climate Change

This page provides an overview of climate change in Washington State, with an emphasis on local and state governmental responses.


The concern about climate change has been widely recognized on a global, national, and regional level. "Global warming" refers to increases in global temperatures resulting from an accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Greenhouse gases include carbon dioxide, methane, and chlorofluorocarbons. These gases trap the sun's heat as it is radiated from the earth, and prevent it from escaping back into space. State and local governments are addressing climate change in their plans and policies and starting to take actions to reduce greenhouse gases.

According to the National Academy of Sciences, the earth's surface temperature has risen by about one degree Fahrenheit in the past century, with accelerated warming during the past two decades. Most warming over the last 50 years is attributed to human-caused global warming.

Around the world and in the Pacific Northwest, noticeable changes in natural resources and plants and animals have been associated with this warming, from shrinking glaciers and mountain snowpacks to altered migratory patterns. These changes are expected to continue as global warming intensifies.

General Climate Change Resources

The following are some key resources that may be useful to local governments regarding slowing the process of climate change, adapting to it, and addressing its impacts.

  • ICLEI - Local Governments for Sustainability - ICLEI is an international membership association of local governments committed to advancing climate protection and sustainable development.  As of December 2014, 34 Washington jurisdictions are members of ICLEI.
  • Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES) - Comprehensive site of independent nonprofit organization dedicated to providing credible information and innovative solutions in the effort to address energy issues and global climate change. Offers a comprehensive collection of scientific and public policy information regarding climate change  
  • Climate Solutions - Practical Solutions to Global Warming - Northwest nonprofit organization spearheading a regional approach to global warming solutions
  • The Climate Registry - Nonprofit collaboration that sets consistent, transparent standards throughout North America for businesses and governments to calculate, verify and publicly report their greenhouse gas emissions in a single registry
  • The Climate Trust - Nonprofit organization that specializes in climate solutions for governments, utilities, and large businesses; involved in carbon trading and purchase of carbon offsets

Scientific and Public Policy Information Related to Climate Change

From the international level, including the United Nations, to Washington State and local governments, global warming and climate impacts have been the focus of considerable attention in recent years. The Northwest has been on the leading edge of climate issues, from both scientific and public policy perspectives. This information can help local governments preparing climate action plans and policies dealing with climate change in comprehensive plans.


  • Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) - An international body established by the World Meteorological Organization and United Nations Environment Programme to assess scientific, technical and socio-economic information relevant for the understanding of climate change, its potential impacts, and options for adaptation and mitigation. The IPCC is the definitive source of mainstream scientific consensus on climate science and projections of climate changes and impacts. Issues regular assessment reports on the state of knowledge on climate change
  • United Nations - Gateway to the UN Systems Work on Climate Change - UN climate change portal 

U.S. Government

Northwest Climate Information - University of Washington

In Washington State, the University of Washington has conducted valuable research on regional climate change and provided scientific data and policy analysis on global warming and climate issues.

  • Climate Impacts Group (CIG) - An interdisciplinary research group studying the impacts of natural climate variability and global climate change on the Pacific Northwest. The CIG works with planners and policy makers to apply this information to regional decision making processes
    • Special Reports - Links to recent reports of the Climate Impacts Group, including the following:
    • Climate Change Impacts and Adaptation in Washington State: Technical Summaries for Decision Makers, Snover, A.K, et al., Climate Impacts Group and Washington State Department of Ecology, 2013 - Summarizes existing knowledge about the likely effects of climate change on Washington State and the Pacific Northwest, with an emphasis on research since 2007
    • Preparing for Climate Change: A Guidebook for Local, Regional, and State Governments, Snover, A.K. et al., Climate Impacts Group, King County, and ICLEI - Local Governments for Sustainability, 2007. Intended to help local, regional, and state government decision-makers prepare for climate change by recommending a detailed, easy-to-understand process for climate change preparedness based on familiar resources and tools

Washington State and Local Government Response to Climate Change

Washington State has played a leadership role in addressing climate change. ICLEI, Local Governments for Sustainability, assists cities and counties in the U.S. and other countries in addressing climate change. Many Washington jurisdictions have signed the U.S. Conference of Mayors Climate Protection Agreement. Seattle, King County, Bellingham, and Olympia are among the Washington jurisdictions that have taken a leadership role in addressing climate change.

General Information on Local Governments and Climate Change

Washington State and Regional Governments

Washington Local Governments

This section includes ordinances and resolutions related to climate change, green task forces, and climate action plans. Also see the sections below on Legal Issues and Environmental Review of Climate Impacts and Comprehensive Plans Addressing Climate Issues.

Washington Cities

  • Bainbridge Island Ordinance No. 2017-13 (2017) - Establishing climate change advisory committee comprised of "qualified scientific experts" to advise city council and staff members on climate change and greenhouse gas reduction
  • Bellingham Climate Protection & Energy - Includes links to Climate Action Plan (updated 2018); national leader in climate protection by reducing environmental impact of municipal operations
  • Edmonds Climate Action Plan, 2010
  • Kirkland Climate Protection - Includes links to Climate Action Plan and updates
  • Olympia Sea Level Rise Response Planning (2018) - Draft plan from city, Port of Olympia, and LOTT Clean Water Alliance to protect downtown from sea level rise
  • Port Townsend and Jefferson County Climate Action Plan (2011) - Example of collaboration
  • Redmond Climate Action Implementation Plan (2014)
  • Seattle Climate Planning - Includes 2013 climate action plan and greenhouse gas emission monitoring
  • Shoreline Climate Action Plan, 2013 - Shoreline has been a leader in developing programs and policies to encourage sustainable development
    • Resolution No. 418 (2017) - Pledging to join the Puget Sound Regional Climate Preparedness Collaborative
  • Tacoma Environmental Action Plan - Includes 2016 plan and annual progress reports

Washington Counties

  • King County-Cities Climate Collaboration (K4C) - Collaborative effort between King County and 11 cities to coordinate and enhance the effectiveness of local government climate and sustainability action
  • King County
    • Climate Change - Portal to extensive information about King County's activities in response to climate change
    • Strategic Climate Action Plan (updated 2015) - Addresses critical goals, objectives, and strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and prepare for the effects of climate change
    • Annual Sustainability Report, King County Climate Change, Energy, Green Building and Environmental Purchasing Programs - Latest report 
  • Skagit County
  • Snohomish County/Stillaguamish Tribe Climate Change Curriculum Contract (2016) - Intergovernmental contract for county to develop and pilot a standards-based climate change cirriculum for middle school and high school students
  • Thurston County Climate and Sustainability Program - Includes Phase 1: Government Operations and Phase 2: Regional Sustainability 

Washington Special Purpose Districts

  • Port of Olympia Climate Change - Includes greenhouse gas emissions inventory

Legal Issues and Environmental Review of Climate Impacts

This section addresses SEPA review of climate impacts and other legal issues related to climate change.

Comprehensive Plans Addressing Climate Issues

This includes climate elements of comprehensive plans and guidance for policies addressing climate impacts.

Local Governments Outside Washington State

These are model programs from cities in other states.

  • Boulder, CO Climate Action page - Useful model for other jurisdictions; Boulder has a climate action plan tax
  • Portland, OR Climate Action Plan, 2015 - Ambitious, far-reaching plan. Roadmap to cut carbon emissions 80% by 2050 from 1990 levels

Sea Level Rise

Coastal communities in Washington State face considerable challenges with rising sea levels. Only a few inches of sea level rise can make a difference in flooding associated with increased rainfall and more intense wind, storm surge, and tides. In Washington State, the Department of Ecology (DOE) is the primary agency that is working on climate issues. The following are selected resources for local governments to use in addressing sea level rise associated with climate change: 

Last Modified: February 06, 2019