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.
This webpage provides links to basic information about climate change, particularly regional climate change in the Pacific Northwest. It emphasizes state and local efforts to address issues associated with climate.
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. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Climate Change - Information on climate, emissions, U.S. climate policy, impacts, and actions; includes resource center and many materials useful to local governments
- U.S. Global Change Research Program - Interagency group including government agencies and foundations. Integrates federal research and solutions for climate and global change. See National Climate Assessment, 05/2014 - Report on climate change impacts on the U.S. including the Northwest region
- Transportation and Climate Change Clearinghouse, U.S. Department of Transportation - One-stop source of information on climate change impacts on transportation sytems and infrastructure. Includes section on State/Local Actions and Policies
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, 12/2013 - 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
- ICLEI USA - Membership organization of more than 450 local governments in the U.S. committed to climate protection and sustainability; helps cities to adopt policies and implement quantifiable measures to reduce local greenhouse gas emissions, improve air quality, and enhance urban livability and sustainability. Offers Sustainability Planning Toolkit for members only
- Small Communities Toolkit, ICLEI - Designed to help communities of 25,000 people or less launch and maintain climate, energy, and sustainability initiatives.
- Climate Protection Center, U.S. Conference of Mayors - Provides guidance and assistance in city efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that are linked to climate change
- U.S. EPA
- Cool Planning: A Handbook on Local Strategies to Slow Climate Change, Oregon Transportation and Growth Management Program - Empahsis on Oregon but also useful to Washington communities
- Policy Guide on Planning and Climate Change, American Planning Association, Updated 04/11/2011 - Addresses federal, state, and local roles related to land use, transportation, energy, and other topics
- Local Sustainability and Climate Policy: More Talk than Action? by Jessica Terman, University of Nevada, Reno and Richard C. Feiock, Florida State University, Alliance for Innovation, 07/03/2012 - Report examines how local governments see their role in promoting energy conservation and sustainability based on a 2010 national survey of local government managers in U.S. cities conducted by Florida State University
- Growing Wealthier: Smart Growth, Climate Change and Prosperity, by Chuck Kooshian and Steve Winkelman, Center for Clean Air Policy, 01/2011 - Discusses effects on vehicle miles traveled, gross domestic product (GDP), and other measures of prosperity
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.
- Bellingham Climate Protection Program - Includes links to Climate Action Plan; national leader in climate protection by reducing environmental impact of municipal operations
- Edmonds Climate Action Plan, 02/04/2010
- Kirkland Climate Protection - Includes links to Climate Action Plan and updates
- Olympia Climate Change - Includes a variety of reports on climate change, including sea level rise, which is a major challenge for Olympia
- Port Townsend and Jefferson County Climate Action Plan, adopted 11/14/2011 - Example of collaboration
- Seattle Climate - Includes updates to climate programs and policies, incentives and rebates, and other useful resources
- Shoreline Climate Action Plan, 09/2013 - Shoreline has been a leader in developing programs and policies to encourage sustainable development
- 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, 12/2012 - 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
- Thurston County Climate and Sustainability Program - Includes Phase 1: Government Operations and Phase 2: Regional Sustainability
Legal Issues and Environmental Review of Climate Impacts
This section addresses SEPA review of climate impacts and other legal issues related to climate change.
- King County
- Washington State Department of Ecology
Comprehensive Plans Addressing Climate Issues
This includes climate elements of comprehensive plans and guidance for policies addressing climate impacts.
- Planning for Climate Change: Addressing Climate Change through Comprehensive Planning under the Growth Management Act , Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development (now Department of Commerce), 12/2008 - Includes policy recommendations (including possible changes to state statutes) and funding options for strategies to address climate change
- Model Policies for Greenhouse Gases in General Plans, California CAPCOA, 06/2009 - Model policies developed for California communities but applicable to Washington city and county comprehensive plans as well
- Bellingham Comprehensive Plan, Ch. 9 Environmental Element, Part 6 - Climate Change Adaptation
- Edmonds Comprehensive Plan, Community Sustainability Element
- Seattle Comprehensive Plan, Environmental Element - See section E - Climate Change
- King County Comprehensive Plan, Ch. 4, Environment, Part II. Climate Change - Updated 11/04/2013
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, 2009 - Ambitious, far-reaching plan. Roadmap to cut carbon emissions 80% by 2050 from 1990 levels
Carbon Trading and Cap and Trade
Emissions trading is an administrative approach used to control pollution by providing economic incentives for achieving reductions in the emissions of pollutants. It is also called cap and trade. Carbon trading is emissions trading specifically for carbon dioxide (calculated in tons of carbon dioxide equivalent) and currently makes up the bulk of emissions trading.
A central authority (usually a government or international body) sets a limit or cap on the amount of a pollutant that can be emitted. Companies are issued emission permits and are required to hold an equivalent number of allowances (or credits), which represent the right to emit a specific amount. The total amount of allowances and credits cannot exceed the cap, limiting total emissions to that level. To be effective, cap and trade gradually steps down the “cap” limits over time. Companies that need to increase their emission allowance must buy credits from those who pollute less. The transfer of allowances is referred to as a trade. In effect, the buyer is paying a charge for polluting, while the seller is being rewarded for having reduced emissions by more than was needed. (Definition adapted from Wikipedia)
- Cap and Trade, U.S. EPA - Links to a variety of resources and quick facts on this topic
- Cap and Trade, Climate Change 101, Pew Center on Global Climate Change - Useful explanation of cap and trade program, including benefits and how to design it
- Cap and Trade - A Primer, AWC - Includes glossary of key terms, 08/01/2008
- Washington Carbon Pollution Reduction and Clean Energy Leadership, Governor Jay Inslee Policy Brief, 12/17/2014 - Package of actions to transition Washington to increased energy independence through use of clean energy, to reduce carbon pollution, and to meet statutory greenhouse gas limits. Includes proposed carbon tax on major polluters
- Carbon Footprint Calculators, RecyclingCenters.org - Tools to help estimate the amount of greenhouse gases released into the environment
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:
- Adapting to Climate Change: A Planning Guide for State Coastal Managers, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), 2010 – Helps coastal managers develop and implement adaptation plans to reduce the risk associated with climate change impacts affecting their coasts
- Adaptation Tool Kit: Sea-Level Rise and Coastal Land Use – How Governments Can Use Land-Use Practices to Adapt to Sea-Level Rise , Georgetown Climate Center, 2011 – This helpful toolkit is a great resource for planners. Explores 18 land-use tools that can be used to pre-emptively respond to the threat posed by sea level rise.
- Synopsis of an Assessment: Policy Tools for Local Adaptation to Sea Level Rise, by Barbara J. Lausche, Technical Report #1419, Mote Marine Laboratory, 10/2009 – Excellent paper; focuses on Florida but includes many recommendations relevant to Washington’s coastal communities
- Sea Level Rise and Coastal Hazards webpage, Washington State Department of Ecology - Brings together many useful reports, resources, and mapping and visualization tools
- Coastal Hazard Resilience Network - New online collaboration tool; connects planners and others to coastal hazard experts in Washington State. Supported by Washington SeaGrant and Washington DOE
- Digital Coast, NOAA - Partnership of many agencies and organizations; includes a host of tools and information, such as:
- Managed Coastal Retreat, A Legal Handbook on Shifting Development Away from Vulnerable Areas, by Ann Siders, Columbia Law School Center for Climate Change Law, 10/2013 - Tools, Case Studies, and Lessons Learned that draws on the framework of tools identified in documents such as the Georgetown Climate Center Tool Kit
- Sea Level Rise: A Challenge for Washington’s Coastal Communities, by Carol Tobin, MRSC Insight, 04/28/2014 - Article focuses on what local governments can do to address climate change, including the use of planning tools, regulatory approaches, spending tools and incentives, and leadership opportunities