Seattle to achieve Kyoto targets

Seattle’s mayor, Paul Schell, an outspoken critic of the Bush administration’s attitude towards the Kyoto Protocol, has pledged that the city will meet the greenhouse gas reduction targets set out in the 1997 treaty despite the US Government’s refusal to ratify it.


Seattle is pledging to beat the Kyoto aim of reducing CO2 emissions by 7% from 1990 levels three times over. “We are sending a message to the federal administration that it is time to act, just like the rest of the world,” Mayor Schell told a press conference.

The city’s commitment is not new, however. Mayor Schell told a hearing in June, the only public session on the West Coast for comment on the Bush administration’s proposed energy plan, that clean energy, environmental protection, and economic prosperity go hand-in-hand.

Mayor Schell also sent a letter to the energy plan’s architect, Vice President Dick Cheney, spelling out his objections and emphasising the achievements of the city’s energy utility, Seattle City Light. “The strategy places too much emphasis on the development of new energy supplies without paying a corresponding level of attention to increasing energy efficiency,” Schell said in the letter. “Efficiency is both timely and cost-effective. City Light’s conservation investments will save the utility and its ratepayers $160 million in reduced wholesale market purchases from January, 2000 through September, 2001.”

“The report underestimates the cost and ease of building 1,300 to 1,900 large, new power plants,” he added. “With a more substantial funding approach toward energy efficiency, many of these plants will never be needed.”

The energy utility’s report to the vice president strongly supports the use of renewable sources of energy, energy efficiency, and expresses substantial scepticism about the need for vast numbers of new generating plants.

The origins of the city’s commitment to Kyoto date back to 22 April 2000 – Earth Day – when Seattle announced plans to adopt renewable energy and energy efficiency to reduce its emissions of greenhouse gases to zero. At that time, the city council unanimously adopted a proposal to meet Seattle’s electricity needs in future with no net emissions linked to global warming and climate change.

Denis Hayes, chair of the international organisation that sponsored Earth Day activities is a Seattle resident. At the launch he said: “The urgent question now is, “Do we have the will?” At least one city does, and I’m proud to live in it,” he said at the launch of the proposal.

It is possible to trace the current trend even further back – Seattle City Light has promoted energy conservation for 20 years, and operates one of the largest public power systems in the US.

The intention is that the ‘zero emission’ goal will be met by relying on existing hydropower facilities – most of Seattle’s energy comes from hydropower dams strung across the turbulent rivers of the US north west – and by developing new wind, geothermal, solar and landfill gas generation systems. This programme will be teamed with energy conservation measures.

If fossil fuels are needed to meet electricity demand, the City plans to offset the carbon emissions through other measures such as forest protection and planting trees – so-called carbon sinks. The use of forests as carbon sinks to offset against CO2 emissions remained a contentious issue (see related story) during talks to ratify the Kyoto Protocol in Bonn this week, though their use was finally adopted. Seattle’s forestation plans differ from the majority interpretation of the use of carbon sinks in that the city intends to use them in addition to, rather than instead of, adopting clean energy sources and energy efficiency measures.

The city’s moves have drawn praise from US environmental organisations. Daniel Lashof, head climate scientist at the National Resources Defence Council, said: “Seattle Mayor Paul Schell is providing the environmental leadership that is so obviously lacking in Washington, DC.”

The city’s response is to an extent tied to its local drought problems. In a statement it said: “The cost of not acting could be extraordinarily high. At its current pace global warming will reduce the region’s snowpack by 50% over the next 50 years, threatening drinking water, irrigation and hydroelectric supplies.”

Even Seattle’s ball team, the Seattle Mariners, is playing its part in reducing energy emissions and other environmental impacts. The club has cut its electricity use by 24% compared to last year and is using recycled upland runoff to irrigate its playing field.

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