Global Warming Initiative – Seattle, WA

In July 2001, Seattle Mayor Paul Schell and four members of the City Council announced support for the Kyoto Protocol and called on other local governments to adopt policies to combat global warming.

The Seattle City Council voted on resolutions supporting the goals of the Kyoto Protocol and committing Seattle City Light — the city’s public electric utility — to a policy of zero net greenhouse gas emissions."Every city and every individual can take steps to reduce global warming," Schell said. "Cities are where most emissions occur — and where the solutions must begin. We can’t afford to wait for the federal government to do this."

Resolution Number 30316 adopts the Kyoto goal of a 7 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. But Seattle thinks it can do better, perhaps even tripling that reduction by 2010. The city will calculate the total greenhouse gas emissions produced by city operations before determining a more specific reduction goal.

Resolution Number 30359 formalizes Seattle City Light’s commitment to become the first major utility in the country to achieve zero net greenhouse-gas emissions. City Light has already sold its share of a coal-fired steam plant and will fully mitigate emissions from its remaining fossil-fuel resources– 600,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide each year. In addition, over the next decade, the utility will produce 100 average megawatts of power through energy efficiency and conservation and acquire another 100 average megawatts of non-hydro renewable energy.

"Our actions are ambitious but realistic," said City Councilmember Heidi Wills, chair of the council’s Energy and Environmental Policy Committee. "We believe we can triple the reductions called for in the Kyoto Protocol and demonstrate to other cities what the possibilities are." Mayor Schell and the City Councilmembers disputed the notion that significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions is too costly, stressing instead the economic benefits of such actions. In the Pacific Northwest, for example, climate change threatens the cycle of coastal rain and mountain snowpack — the very foundation of the region’s hydroelectric system and forest-, fish- and recreation-based economy.

Cityofficials made these points about the economic benefits of Seattle’s anti-global-warming policies: City Light’s commitment to renewable resources and energy efficiency is a good business decision, providing enough power to meet the utility’s total projected load growth over the next 10 years. Conservation is among the least expensive sources of power, and renewable resources expand City Light’s energy portfolio and reduce the need for wholesale market power. The fact that City Light’s energy is free of greenhouse gases is attractive to many businesses. Being "green" gives certain businesses an advantage in the marketplace. Representatives of climate-neutral businesses joined city officials in support of the resolutions. Some of the money available for greenhouse gas mitigation projects will go into the local economy. Alternative transportation programs, partnerships with businesses seeking to become climate neutral, and development of energy-efficient technologies are examples of potential local projects.

The cost of not acting could be extraordinarily high. At its current pace, global warming will reduce the region’s snowpack by 50 percent over the next 50 years, threatening drinking water, irrigation and hydroelectric supplies. The stakes are too high, the mayor and councilmembers concluded, to sit and wait while national and international debate grinds on. They appealed to other municipalities to join Seattle’s initiative.

In April 2002 the city of Seattle completed a greenhouse gas inventory, the first step towards meeting their goals for greenhouse gas reductions. The news was good for the city owned properties – carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent emissions were down 48 percent from 1990 to 2000 and projections put the city at 84 percent below 1990 by the year 2010. The reason for the big drop is primarily due to Seattle City Light cutting its ties to a coal-fired power plant in favor of electricity from wind and hydro power.

Thenews wasn’t so good for the Seattle area as a whole. When households and businesses are included in the equation, citywide emissions were essentially the same in 2000 as they were in 1990, around 7 million metric tons (tonnes) C02 equivalent. But by 2010, citywide emissions are expected to grow nearly 20 percent to 8.2 million tonnes. City wide, cars are the number one source of greenhouse gases, followed by natural gas for residential heating and industry uses, airplanes and diesel powered engines.