Climate Action Plans
The page covers the basic elements of Climate Action Plans (CAP) for local governments in Washington State and includes examples of CAPs, greenhouse gas inventories, and emission reduction targets.
It is part of MRSC’s series on Climate Change.
The impacts of climate change are already being felt by many communities across Washington State. In response, some local governments are choosing to develop plans that both acknowledge the threat of climate change and propose strategies for reducing the possible impacts on their communities.
A strategic plan for climate protection is an essential tool for guiding a community to take effective action in climate change mitigation. It helps to prioritize actions that should be taken to successfully reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and serves as the roadmap for local governments as they implement municipal and community-wide programs, projects, and policies.
A locally adopted CAP is a comprehensive policy tool outlining specific actions that a community will undertake to reduce GHG emissions and/or adaptation strategies the community will implement to counter the negative effects of climate change. Sometimes CAPs cover a single municipality, while others are regional in scope.
CAPs typically establish GHG-reduction targets and use a community GHG emissions inventory as a baseline for setting those targets. CAPs also identify emissions reduction policies and strategies by sector (e.g., transportation/land use, buildings, waste reduction, agriculture, and municipal operations). Step-by-step technical resources, such as the King County Climate Action Toolkit, can assist jurisdictions that are just undertaking the CAP planning process or want to update and strengthen existing plans. For a list of individual GHG reduction strategies broken down by section and associated resources and examples, visit our page Greenhouse Gas Reduction Strategies for Local Governments.
Examples of CAPs
Several local governments in Washington State have adopted CAPs that include significant GHG-reduction strategies. MRSC’s Local Government Climate Change Documents page includes a comprehensive list of climate-related plans by jurisdiction, including CAPs, sustainability plans, and comprehensive plans that include climate-related policies.
- Bainbridge Island: A Plan for Mitigating and Adapting to Climate Change (2020) — Uses the "five milestones" approach created by ICLEI: making an inventory of emissions, establishing reduction targets, developing a CAP, implementing policies and procedures, and monitoring and verifying results.
- Bellevue Environmental Stewardship Plan (2020) — Offers a strategic roadmap for protecting and improving Bellevue’s environment and includes GHG reduction goals and strategies.
- Bellingham Climate Protection Plan (2018) — Identifies 24 municipal and 56 community GHG reduction strategies. The city monitors progress based on established emissions reduction targets.
- Burien Climate Action Plan (2021) — Sets goals of 50% reduction in GHGs by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2050. It establishes a framework for reaching reduction targets by focusing on five sectors: transportation and land use, buildings and energy, materials and consumption, water and natural systems, and community resilience and well-being.
- Edmonds Climate Action Plan (2023) — Includes engagement materials and solutions related to buildings and energy, transportation, and waste and natural resources.
- Everett Climate Action Plan (2020) — Includes a qualitative assessment of the potential benefits associated with each implementation action. Criteria include public health, feasibility, economic growth, and equity.
- Issaquah Climate Action Plan (2021) — Based on recommendations developed during a 2020 Community Convening on Climate event. It builds on the city’s Mobility Master Plan, Sustainable Buildings Action Strategy, and Parks Strategic Plan.
- Kenmore Climate Action Plan — Includes 15 priorities developed through extensive public engagement, like increasing energy grid resilience and reliability, centering the most vulnerable community members, and preparing for climate emergencies.
- King County Climate Action — Offers links to the county's CAP and related programs/initiatives, including a community toolkit, community task force, and GIS open data portal.
- Kirkland Sustainability Master Plan (2020) — Includes sustainability goals organized by eight focus areas that are intended to be measurable and actionable. The plan is to be revised every five years.
- Mercer Island Climate Action Plan (2023) — Includes 5 focus areas and 59 actions and policies to help the city meet its climate goals.
- Methow Valley Climate Action Plan — Community-based plan involving local governments, community members, and other groups; guiding principles include resiliency, equity, and working toward carbon neutrality.
- Seattle Climate Action Plan — Actions are focused on areas of greatest need and impact. The 2018 update includes short-and long-term actions for leading contributors of GHG emission: transportation and buildings.
- Shoreline Climate Action Plan (2022) — Includes three overarching goals: reducing emissions, enhancing ecosystem health and sequestration, and increasing community resilience and preparedness.
- Spokane Sustainability Action Plan (2021) — Centered on equity and identifies strategies and actions to meet the city's 100% renewable energy goals, which were adopted in 2018.
- Tacoma Climate Action Plan (2021) — Notes that it intends to be a tool to serve overburdened and frontline communities' needs and priorities, beyond reducing emissions and building resilience against climate impacts.
- Thurston Climate Mitigation Plan (2020) — Offers a comprehensive regional framework for climate mitigation that includes Thurston County and the cities of Lacey, Tumwater, and Olympia.
- Vancouver Climate Action Framework (2022) — Creates a long-term vision that includes equity in climate action; a resilient, green economy; 100% clean energy; active, electrified transportation and connected neighborhoods; connected, carbon-rich natural systems; and less waste.
- Whatcom County Climate Action Plan (2021) — Calls for the formation of an Office of Climate Action that would coordinate efforts across multiple county departments and promote community engagement in projects that boost climate resilience.
- Bend (OR): Primer on Climate Action Plans — Provides an overview of common strategies used by municipalities and lists of jurisdictions with completed CAPs.
- City Scale: The State of Local Climate Planning (2021) — Evaluates the state of local climate action planning, including observations about current deficits and future needs.
- Salem (OR) Climate Actions Audit (2020) — Includes a comprehensive review of 12 adopted CAPs (Tacoma and Bellingham are included), a ranking of different policies as “essential, priority, and additional,” an analysis of various public engagement strategies for the CAP adoption process, as well as a review of existing city policies that advance several CAP goals.
- Zero Energy Project: Cities with Climate Action Plans — Maintains a list of cities across the nation that have adopted CAPs.
A GHG inventory is an evaluation tool for local governments to use in developing targeted climate action strategies specific to local needs. It is not a precondition to taking steps to reduce emissions; however, it is a frequently used, valuable tool in climate action planning.
An initial GHG inventory is typically a baseline calculation of all emissions from various sources throughout a local jurisdiction, and it is often limited to a public agency’s operational emissions. A GHG Inventory can inform decision-makers on where and how to focus their emissions reduction efforts. The categories vary by jurisdiction and approach, but can generally be divided into the following sectors:
- Land use,
- Solid waste/wastewater, and
- Municipal operations
Examples of GHG Inventories
- Edmonds Community GHG Inventory (2017) — Offers a strong example of accounting for sector uses.
- Tacoma GHG Emissions — Includes 2016 inventory and a 2019 update.
- Whatcom County GHG Inventory (2020) — Includes community inventories, emissions factors, and a baseline comparison.
- Environmental Protection Agency: GHG Inventory Tool — Includes pre-programmed emissions and jurisdiction parameters.
- Greenhouse Gas Protocols — Offers guidance for communities to account for carbon pollution accurately and consistently.
- Global Protocol for Community-Scale GHG Inventories — Offers cities and local governments a robust, transparent, and globally accepted framework to consistently identify, calculate, and report on city greenhouse gas emissions.
- The Climate Registry — Operates a registry that sets consistent, transparent standards for businesses and governments throughout North America to calculate, verify, and publicly report GHG emissions.
Washington has enacted several state laws and commitments focused on GHG reduction. These regulations are meant to limit emissions in some of the state’s highest emitting sectors, as well as set future targets for greenhouse gas permit trading and reduction. The most recent is the Climate Commitment Act. The GHG reduction goals driving this legislation require the state to decrease emissions to 95% below 1990 emissions levels by 2050, with multiple milestones along the way. The 2021 State Energy Strategy provides a blueprint for how Washington State can nearly eliminate the use of fossil fuels by 2050. Local governments engaged in climate action planning also typically set their own reduction targets and identify strategies to meet those targets.
Examples of Local Government GHG Reduction Targets
- Bellingham Climate Action Plan (2018) — This section tracks current GHG reduction targets and monitors progress.
- Whatcom County Climate Action Plan: The Built Environment (2021) — Establishes goals and baseline measures for reducing GHG emissions.