King County has signed into law a climate action plan that many local environmentalists are applauding as one of the boldest in the United States. How communities will meet their commitments to reducing greenhouse gas emissions is a big question, as representatives get ready for the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Paris next month.
One of the keys to King County's success might be the way it involves small cities in the setting and meeting of globally oriented goals.
The plan has an overall goal of reducing King County’s greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent of 2007 levels by 2050.
It does so through targeting some of the biggest sources of emissions: transportation and energy used by buildings and through committing to things like doubling transit ridership over the next 25 years.
But what really makes the plan stand out for county environmental advisor Megan Smith, is the way it has unified three quarters of the local population, through something called the King County Cities Climate Collaboration.
“And this is a voluntary group of about a dozen cities in King County. We work together to get a common emissions reduction goal and to map out the specific actions to get there,” Smith said.
She says this approach has led to a much more comprehensive look at how to achieve the emissions goals – through things like urban design.
“Our success or failure in dealing with climate change is going to be based on the decisions we make about where we grow and develop in this region, how we serve that development with transportation, the kind of buildings we have, how we protect open space, how we build trails,” she said.
So there are commitments in the climate action plan to keep 97 percent of new growth in established urban areas, to preserve farmland and to plant a million trees over the next five years.
But how each community gets there will be different. For example, a small city like Snoqualmie might focus on building design and encouraging transit use, while Redmond could put emphasis on creating more density.
"So we really try to work with cities, to say, 'Okay these are the high level commitments — how do you tailor them to work in your jurisdiction?'" Smith said. "So that when we at the end of the day monitor our progress, we're confident we're on the track to meeting our shared climate goal."