From scorching summertime heat to sustained seasonal flooding, climate change isn’t a theoretical exercise in King County: It’s real, and it’s happening now. King County is taking action to lessen the harmful impacts of climate change to people and our shared environment.
The changing climate deepens and broadens the gulf of racial inequities, stresses our landscapes, and puts our residents, our economy, and our planet at risk. That’s why confronting climate change continues to be a core focus of King County’s work.
Just as climate change presents multiple impacts on our environment, there are also multiple actions we’re taking to adapt and respond for safer, healthier, and sustainable communities.
Here are recent highlights from some of these important initiatives and projects the county is working on – following the leadership and framework provided by Executive Dow Constantine’s 2020 Strategic Climate Action Plan.
Through meaningful programs and actions, we’re striving to make it easier to be green at home, green at work, and green everywhere in between.
Green at home
The built environment is responsible for nearly a quarter of emissions in King County. Stronger building codes for unincorporated King County will ensure that new commercial and multifamily buildings where we live, work, and gather will be more efficient, saving money and energy. High performance buildings create jobs and provide for comfortable and economical indoor spaces, protecting the health of residents at all income levels.
We are helping make the places where we live greener through a pilot to replace old and polluting heating systems with new low-carbon heating systems for our most vulnerable neighbors. We’re also supporting development of energy-efficient green homes for residents of all income levels.
Where those homes are built also makes a big difference in how green they are. King County continues to prioritize new residential development and growth in urban areas that are connected to the region’s transit and trail systems, providing families moving into these communities with access to alternative transportation options that greatly expand their overall mobility and improve their access to parks, trails, and other features that improve their quality of life.
With the heightened risk of wildfire from changing weather patterns – including hotter, drier summers – we’re also helping residents in the wildland urban interface better prepare their homes and communities for wildfires that are occurring more frequently in western Washington with a new Wildfire Risk Reduction Strategy.
No matter where they live in King County, everyone has opportunities to lighten their impact on the environment and waste fewer resources. That includes everything from recycling right and composting, to using native vegetation as landscaping at home that reduces the need for supplemental watering, fertilizer and other chemicals.
Green at work
King County is making it easier for owners of commercial buildings – that account for 22% of countywide greenhouse gas emissions – to make their properties more energy efficient and more resilient at no additional cost to taxpayers through Executive Constantine’s proposed C-PACER program.
The Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy + Resiliency program creates a mechanism for banks to offer low-interest financing for new construction and retrofits that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, reduce water usage, or make a building more resilient to earthquakes and climate impacts.
More than 4,000 commercial, multi-family, industrial, and agricultural buildings will be eligible for the incentive program, which is expected to spark growth in green jobs.
Green building is nothing new in King County, where we noted a 50% increase in green building certification for residential structures between 2015 and 2019. And the County surpassed its energy efficiency goals in its own operations, reducing internal energy use by more than 20% over the past 14 years.
Through the King County-Cities Climate Collaboration, we have led the efforts of cities representing 80% of King County’s 2.25 million residents to advance transformational state energy policies for stronger building and appliance efficiency, conservation requirements for fossil fuel gas, and 100% clean electricity.
Green in between
Getting to work, shops, or your favorite spot for a hike, walk, or run is easier and greener than ever. King County is integrating transit service to connect more people to more car-free, climate-smart options for moving comfortably and efficiently – no matter the destination.
Three new Link Light Rail stations opened in King County this fall, giving hundreds of thousands of people easy access to a growing green transportation backbone. Having retired its last diesel-only buses in 2020, King County is leading the nation in transitioning its existing hybrid fleet to a 100% zero-emission fleet by 2035.
Transit and other green transportation choices make getting around King County easy on your wallet and the environment – and they’ve helped achieve an 11% reduction in per-person greenhouse gas emissions over the past decade.
Eastrail, King County’s major north-south regional trail corridor on the Eastside, continues to be developed through thriving neighborhoods and commercial business centers, linking communities to light rail and RapidRide bus routes.
With its remarkable future path over the historic Wilburton Trestle, regional trails like Eastrail also connect people to parks and open space that are important as places to enjoy a quite walk, and so much more. These green spaces need our care – they are an essential part of our county’s character, they offer us escapes from our busy lives, and they can help us address the negative impacts of climate change.
Healthy forests and greenspaces – whether they’re broad swaths of forested Cascade Foothills, or a neighborhood park with a dense canopy of trees – are essential to our response to the extreme heat events we have documented as a result of climate change.
And we’re protecting more of these open spaces through Executive Constantine’s Land Conservation Initiative, which calls for an accelerated effort to acquire or preserve 65,000 acres of the most ecologically valuable land – including urban greenspaces, forests, and farmland – in 30 years.
Farmland not only plays an important role in our response to climate change and reducing the carbon footprint of our food supply, but a robust local farm economy means more healthy food for our residents, more jobs in rural farming areas, and a landscape that is more resilient to climate impacts. Those attributes make farmland preservation all the more important. And as the county becomes more diverse, so do the communities that benefit from access to farmland.
These green places need our care, too, through noxious weed removal, which benefits native species that can thrive here, and helps reduce the threat of wildfire by eliminating those highly flammable invasive plant species.
We’ve shown our ability to achieve ambitious environmental goals. After surpassing our goal to plant 1 Million Trees, we launched 3 Million Trees to increase urban tree canopy, protect forestland that’s absorbing carbon now, and prepare forests for climate impacts.
We’re reducing flood risks as our region experiences more frequent, severe wet weather events as the result of climate change, protecting people, property, and infrastructure while also improving salmon habitat.
These actions are all guided by Executive Constantine’s Strategic Climate Action Plan, which was shaped with help from leaders of frontline communities – those disproportionately impacted by climate change – to help us create a more just, equitable, resilient King County. Our climate plan activities have an intentional focus on actions specifically targeting climate change-related inequities and health impacts on historically overburdened communities.
To find out more about King County’s approach to climate solutions, visit https://bit.ly/3uIsIcI.
For tips on how you can shrink your climate footprint, visit https://kingcounty.gov/services/environment/stewardship/being-green/green-tips.aspx.