King County’s 2020 Strategic Climate Action Plan Brings “More Equitable Access” to Climate Justice

by Jack Russillo

On Thursday, August 27, King County Executive Dow Constantine released the county’s 2020 Strategic Climate Action Plan (SCAP), a five-year blueprint to confront the effects of climate change in our corner of the Pacific Northwest. The SCAP is a living document that is updated every five years to help King County adapt its climate action priorities. 

The main components of the SCAP are to cut greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) in half by 2030, prepare for immediate impacts of climate change, and promote more equitable forms of climate justice. The plan was announced at a press conference at the Paradise Parking Lot Community Garden in Kent, with local elected officials and environmental organizers speaking about the issues associated with climate change in King County.

“Climate change is no longer a future problem,” said Constantine. “It is impacting King County today, deepening inequities and intensifying natural hazards — flooding, wildfires, extreme heat — that put our people, our economy, and our environment at risk.”

The first section of the plan deals with cutting GHG emissions by 50% by 2030 and by 80% by 2050, as compared to 2007 levels. King County is also committed to reducing its government operations emissions by 80% by 2030. To reach those goals, the County plans to decrease emissions in four major areas of the County’s infrastructure: shifting energy use from fossil fuels to electricity; improving transportation efficiency standards; phasing out hydrofluorocarbons; and implementing a 100% clean electricity law. 

Major efforts to reduce GHG emissions will focus on reducing car trips through increased sustainable transit options; reducing countywide building energy use by 25% by developing programs to expand renewable energy access for commercial and family buildings; advancing green building and sustainable commercial energy codes; and moving toward a zero-waste circular economy that incorporates recycled and low-carbon-impact  products for King County projects.

There is also a new 30-year forest plan, which will invest $25 million by 2025 by purchasing at least 25 new public green spaces and planting three million trees in areas with the least canopy cover. 

A new section in this year’s SCAP includes commitments to climate justice and social equity. This section is titled “Sustainable and Resilient Frontline Communities” (SRFC) and was developed through a community-led process with the participation of local leaders in communities that have most often experienced the earliest and most intense impacts of climate change and historic inequities. By creating the Climate Equity Community Task Force (CECTF) to drive the SRFC goals, local BIPOC leaders will identify their own priorities for future climate action.

“Black, Indigenous, and People of Color communities have survived disproportional climate and environmental impacts — they are resilient and have a lot of knowledge that has been passed down through our cultures and relationships to the earth,” said Jill Mangaliman, executive director of Got Green and a member of the CECTF. “When you build trust through authentic relationships and value people’s lived experience and expertise in policy-making, it’s transformational.”

The SRFC section focuses on community-driven policy-making and investing in long-term community partnerships, from increasing climate education to prioritizing language access. The SRFC section will also build partnerships across the county to develop careers that advance racial and climate equity by creating pathways toward greater BIPOC leadership representation and a greener economy. 

The SRFC section also addresses growing culturally-relevant food security, improving land access, providing energy-efficient public transportation and utility assistance programs, maintaining ecosystems that support tribal sovereignty, and increasing climate-resistant housing security and anti-displacement measures for BIPOC communities.

“Refugees and immigrants — along with other BIPOC communities — are often the most affected by climate change and environmental threats, yet they have historically been excluded from policy discussions and structures that directly affect their health, because they are not landowners,” said Tahmina Martelly, the resiliency programs manager for World Relief Seattle. “This Strategic Climate Action Plan has the potential to finally correct that, promoting community-led solutions that help repurpose neglected urban spaces to offer more equitable access to culturally relevant food and green space.”

The third section of the SCAP identifies climate-preparedness actions and strategies for King County to prepare for the variety of potential impacts of a changing climate. 

“The science is clear: human-caused climate change is underway,” said Amy Snover, director of the University of Washington’s Climate Impacts Group. “Unfortunately, it’s not enough to work to stop climate change. We now also need to prepare for its consequences, which is why the plan’s focus on climate preparedness is so important.”

A key climate-preparedness objective is to mainstream climate action into the county’s daily responsibilities by considering climate impacts in infrastructure planning and design and by investing in a science-based resource hub that can inform climate-preparedness activities across King County departments and programs. The section also touches on prioritizing health and equity in climate-preparedness actions through the guidelines of the SRFC section, strengthening collaborations to address climate impacts and increase regional resiliency, and investing in public outreach and engagement that can help share information on climate impacts and hazard-mitigation planning.

“Here in King County, we know that climate change will bring more droughts and more floods, more hot days and heat extremes, more storm water runoff and stress on our ecosystems, and more wildfires,” said Snover. “These impacts will impose increasing risks to people and ecosystems across the country. And these local consequences of climate change — to borrow a term from the military — are threat multipliers. Each will worsen the effects of the other threats that we face today — COVID-19, poverty, racism, ecological damage — which is why the plan’s focus on frontline communities is so important.”

Jack Russillo has been reporting in Western Washington since 2013. He covers the environment, social justice, and other topics that affect a sustainable and equitable future. He currently lives in Seattle’s Beacon Hill neighborhood.

Featured Image: Jill Mangaliman speaking at the press conference at the Paradise Parking Lot Community Garden in Kent.