Eco-nomics: Preparing for, limiting climate crisis demands a plan

Fortunately, local governments are developing and updating climate action plans to outline necessary steps.

By Paul Roberts / For The Herald

Across the U.S., cities, counties, regional and Tribal governments are preparing for climate change by adopting climate action plans. Local governments are the first responders to climate change impacts such as heatwaves, fires, storms and flooding. Preparing for the impacts of a warming world and transitioning to a zero-emission economy require changes to land use, transportation, infrastructure, water, energy and other municipal services.

These action plans are generally organized to address three main issues associated with climate change: mitigation, reducing greenhouse gas emissions; adaptation, preparing for climate related impacts; and economic development, transitioning to a low or zero-emission economy. There are other issues and topics as well, including governance, finance, emergency management and risk management. CAPs address these issues in the context of unique local circumstances and geography.

Burning fossil fuels results in more greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere and oceans, increasing global temperatures. That in turn results in more frequent and intense climate-influenced events: heat, wildfires, drought, rain and storm events, flooding, landslides and sea level rise. The only remedy is to reduce emissions as soon as possible. The recognized target is net-zero by 2050; 26 years from now. CAPs are preparing local communities for the long-haul, to meet emission targets, transition away from fossil fuels and prepare for increasing climate-influenced events.

In Washington state, local governments are required to plan under the State’s Growth Management Act . The Legislature amended the GMA in 2023 to add a climate goal. This year the Department of Commerce issued draft guidance for developing a climate element integrating housing, transportation and land use.

The City of Everett and the Puget Sound region have been leaders in preparing for climate change and adopting climate action plans. Everett first amended its comprehensive plan identifying climate change impacts in 2017 and adopted a CAP in 2020, one of the first in the State. Many other jurisdictions in the Puget Sound region have also adopted CAPs including King and Snohomish counties, Seattle, Tacoma, Bellevue and Redmond.

There is a growing recognition that regions are the global building blocks for reducing greenhouse gas emissions (see “Eco-Nomics: Puget Sound region can amplify climate solutions,” The Herald, Nov. 10). Regions are defined by a common geography and economy. They include the very systems that must be transformed for mitigation and adaptation: energy, transportation, water, waste water and land use. Regions can facilitate a transition from an economy based on fossil fuels, to a low or zero-emission economy; from a dystopian future to a hopeful one for our children, grandchildren and future generations. CAPs are the local blue-print for that transition.

Let’s use Everett and Puget Sound climate action plans as examples. However, most CAPs will include variations of these policies and actions:

Mitigation: Reducing emissions is a central theme. The largest emission source is carbon dioxide, representing nearly 80 percent of all GHGs, primarily generated in urban areas from transportation and buildings. Everett and Puget Sound jurisdictions have taken a number of steps to reduce carbon dioxide including: reducing commute trips, developing public transit, pedestrian and bike-friendly transportation infrastructure, electrifying the transit fleet and supporting electric-vehicle charging infrastructure. Everett has amended land use plans, increased density and is evaluating options to incentivize or require all-electric buildings for new construction.

Adaptation: Preparing for climate impacts is addressed in Everett’s CAP and Hazard Mitigation Plan, updated in 2018. The CAP identifies heat, sea level rise, precipitation, snowpack, streamflow and temperature, flooding and human health impacts. The Hazard Mitigation Plan addresses a variety of climate change impacts on property, critical infrastructure, public health, the environment and the economy.

Economic development: Transitioning to a zero-emission economy is included in Everett’s CAP. The city has adopted codes incentivizing green infrastructure and buildings and promoting stormwater management. Other efforts include waste management and recycling, sustainable purchasing policies and supporting local agriculture. The largest manufacturing center in the State is located in Everett and Snohomish County. It is a hub for green technologies including Helion, ZAP Energy, TerraPower, InFarm and aviation including Eviation and Boeing.

Adapting to a warming world is a dynamic process. The effects of climate change are increasing and changing, and will continue into the foreseeable future. Examples of emerging issues include:

Wildfires and urban firestorms; When temperatures are high and humidity is low, wildfire risks dramatically increase. Examples of urban firestorms such as Boulder, Colo., and Lahaina, Hawaii, are emerging across the globe including in the U.S., Canada, Europe, Asia, South America, Africa and Australia. Responding to these events involves evacuation plans in addition to traditional fire suppression.

Extreme heat and diminished air quality present significant issues for vulnerable populations. Providing cool shelter, air filtration and increasing tree coverage are strategies for responding.

Emergency management and hazard mitigation planning may be re-examined in light of new data and emerging climate-influenced events such as extreme heat, fires, rain, flooding and new sea level projections.

Health risks associate with climate change include emerging vector-born diseases.

CAPs need to be updated on a regular basis responding to emerging issues, new information and strategies for mitigation, adaptation and zero-emission economics.

Paul Roberts is retired and lives in Everett. His career spans over five decades in infrastructure, economics and environmental policy including advising Washington cities on climate change and past Chair of the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency Board of Directors.

Eco-nomics

“Eco-nomics” is a series of articles exploring issues at the intersection of climate change and economics. Climate change (global warming) is caused by greenhouse gas emissions — carbon dioxide and methane chiefly — generated by human activities, primarily burning fossil fuels and agricultural practices. Global warming poses an existential threat to the planet. Successfully responding to this threat requires urgent actions — clear plans and actionable strategies — to rapidly reduce GHG emissions and adapt to climate-influenced events.

The Eco-nomics series, to be published every other week in The Herald, is focusing on mitigation and adaptation strategies viewed through the twin perspectives of science and economics. Find links to the series thus far at tinyurl.com/HeraldEco-nomics.

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