Seattle Ups Ante on Climate Action

Poster for Seattle Climate Action (April 2018)

Newly elected Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan wasted no time making clear her commitment to serious climate action, announcing new carbon emission-reduction initiatives for transportation and buildings on April 4, 2018—just four months after taking the oath of office

Transportation First

Two-thirds of Seattle’s climate emissions result from road transportation, so Mayor Durkan is proposing the following transportation-related actions:

  • Improve mobility through congestion pricing: Seattle’s Department of Transportation will develop a strategy to address congestion and transportation emissions through pricing with investments in expanded transit and electrification in underserved communities.  
  • An electric vehicle readiness ordinance for new construction that will require electric vehicle infrastructure in new construction or renovation that includes parking.  
  • An update to the Green Fleet Action Plan to phase out the use of fossil fuels in all fleet vehicles.  
  • The City will work with stakeholders to develop recommendations for electrifying all rideshare vehicles and taxis in Seattle.  

Attacking Emissions in Buildings

Energy use in buildings is the second largest source of carbon emissions in Seattle, so Mayor Durkan introduced two bills aimed at creating more energy-efficient buildings. First, a pilot program to offer additional height and floor space incentives for up to 20 major renovations in urban centers that include significant improvements in energy and water use, stormwater management, and better transportation efficiency based on carbon-neutral building standards.

Next, the Mayor would expand Seattle City Light’s successful, first-in-the-nation, pay-for-performance energy efficiency pilot program that launched in February 2013. The expansion of Energy Efficiency as a Service (EEaS) would eliminate barriers that keep building owners from investing in deep energy efficiency upgrades.


While Seattle boasts one of the cleanest electricity grids in the world, many of its buildings and homes use fossil fuels as their primary energy source for heating and cooling.

To get a start on reducing these emissions, the Mayor proposes a funding strategy to accelerate the transition of 18,000 homes from heating with oil to an electric heat pump. The strategy includes financing the switch for low-income residents and nearly doubling funding for the city’s municipal building energy efficiency program through 2025. The goal would be to cut energy use and carbon emissions by nearly 40 percent in Seattle’s buildings.

Bold Action Required

None of these actions will be easy—especially, though not limited to, congestion pricing—but mayors that are also committing to bold action on climate change will need to know the sources of their cities’ carbon emissions and develop specific actions to reduce them – just as Mayor Durkan is proposing to do.

Eileen V. Quigley

Founder & Executive Director
Eileen V. Quigley is Founder and Executive Director of the Clean Energy Transition Institute. Eileen spent seven years at Climate Solutions identifying the transition pathways off oil and coal to a low-carbon future in Washington and Oregon. She built and led the New Energy Cities program, which partnered with 22 Northwest cities and counties to reduce carbon emissions. As Director of Strategic Innovations, she oversaw New Energy Cities, as well as Sustainable Advanced Fuels.
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