The Emerald City has been green and liberal by US standards for some time. However, the city is not keeping up with other domestic and international cities on a list recently published by C40. 

Thirty cities, not including Seattle, have already peaked greenhouse gas emissions and are now working further to reduce them. Given its rapid population growth, peaking emissions may be harder for Seattle than slower growing urban hubs, requiring more aggressive climate policies.

The C40 Knowledge Hub

C40 is a 10-year-old non-profit organization for cities to share information about how to lower their carbon emissions. Its Knowledge Hub provides cities with data-driven intelligence to drive climate action with greater speed and scale.  

“The fact that 30 of the world’s largest and most influential cities have already peaked greenhouse gas emissions demonstrates that a rapid, equitable low-carbon transition is possible, and is already well underway. C40 analysis shows that, since reaching peak emissions levels, these 30 cities have reduced greenhouse gas emissions by an average of 22 percent. Copenhagen, the host city for this year’s C40 World Mayors Summit, has reduced emissions by up to 61 percent.”

From C40’s October 8 press release.

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How did these cities do it? 

How did these cities do it?  The answers will tell you something about how Seattle compares to other cities and the ongoing efforts in the Pacific Northwest.  

C40 highlights a few points, including those often relevant to consumers:

c40 emission reductions
A LimeBike on the Burke Gillman Greenway.

C40 cities have more than 66,000 electric buses today.

In 2009, there were fewer than 100. Seattle launched electric trolleys in 2015, committed to a purchase of 120 battery buses in 2017, and now has buses said to be not only zero emission but more energy efficient than hybridsNote: In contrast to King County Metro, Sound Transit has been slower to accept electric buses.  

24 cities have committed to 100% renewable electricity by 2030

Seattle Power and Light is fortunate to have incredible hydropower capacity, which contributes nearly 90% of its energy profile. In 2000, the utility divested from a coal fired power plant and later terminated a natural gas turbine contract. And it’s still investing in renewables including wind, landfill methane, and wood biomass energy. By contrast, many environmental groups fault Puget Sound Energy for being more flat-footed in its efforts to reduce carbon emissions. PSEs carbon reduction efforts are here. Some isolated Washington Republicans have expressed sympathy for PSE’s concerns related to energy reliability and costPSE is scheduled to cut its carbon footprint in half by to 2040, but given new laws requiring 100 percent renewable energy by 2045, PSE can’t afford to move much slower.

18 cities have banned or restricted single-use, non-recyclable plastics

Seattle began this push in 2017, but many of its suburbs have yet to follow suit. The regulations for Seattle stores are listed here. King County plastics have been recycled more than those of most US regions in recent years, but the recycling system is more than struggling to keep up. According to the Bellevue Reporter, “King County’s Cedar Hills Regional Landfill near Maple Valley buried 107,000 tons of plastics in 2018”

17 cities have restrictions on high-polluting vehicles that cover a significant part of the city. 

Transportation is Seattle’s largest contributor to carbon emissions and perhaps its biggest hurdle for peaking its greenhouse gas emissions. Washington’s emissions check program has been testing vehicle emissions since 1982 and is set to end on Jan. 1, 2020. Also, while the Port of Seattle passed a resolution seeking more stringent air emission standards for ocean going vessels in 2007, the industry is still providing 23% of the region’s diesel pollution. Off-road vehicles for construction, aircraft support, and cargo handling account for another 39% the diesel exhaust burden, while on-road vehicles contribute 34%.

82 C40 cities provide for cycle rental and hiring, including Seattle. 

These appear to be heavily used in Seattle, based on recent controversies that Lime and Jump bikes have not recharged often or quickly enough, and are improperly parked, cluttering sidewalks. The programs are otherwise without opposition…  

30 cities that have peaked their greenhouse emissions:

Athens, Austin, Barcelona, Berlin, Boston, Chicago, Copenhagen, Heidelberg, Lisbon, London, Los Angeles, Madrid, Melbourne, Milan, Montréal, New Orleans, New York City, Oslo, Paris, Philadelphia, Portland, Rome, San Francisco, Stockholm, Sydney, Toronto, Vancouver, Venice, Warsaw, and Washington, D.C.  

Seattle is not on this list yet – but has been a fully compliant C40 city since 2015. Further details on its efforts are here.  

Feature photo by Zhifei Zhou on Unsplash.