As scientists issue increasingly dire warnings over climate change, Washington state’s greenhouse gas emissions continue to trend higher, according to the latest state inventory.
Emissions in 2017, the most recent year for which information is available, were up about 1.6% when compared with 2015, according to data released Tuesday by the state Department of Ecology. Rising transportation and building heating emissions cut away at gains in other sectors of the economy, according to the data. The 2017 figures were similar to those from 2016.
State lawmakers earlier this year passed ambitious measures to curb greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere. But the rising emissions data shows just how challenging it will be to steer the state toward a greener future as it continues its rapid growth.
“Washington state has a booming economy, a growing population,” said Andy Wineke, a spokesman for the Ecology department, noting that emissions per resident declined. “But if we’re going to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, we’re going to have to reduce them across the board. I am definitely seeing reasons for cautious optimism, but the size of the challenge has not shrunk.”
More than a decade ago, state lawmakers wrote into law a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2020.
“At this point, we’re not on track to hit the 2020 target,” Wineke said. “The bigger concern is, of course, whether the targets we adopted in 2008 are sufficient to reduce the impacts.”
In 2017, the state produced nearly 97.5 million metric tons of carbon-dioxide equivalent. In 2015, that figure was 95.9 million, according to the state data.
Climate experts last year delivered dire warnings about the effect of warming on the world, and called for society-altering shifts in human behavior and the world’s economy. A United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change called for “rapid and far-reaching” changes in energy systems, land use, city and industrial design, transportation and building use.
A report produced by the U.S. Global Change Research Program detailed expected climate effects across the country. The Northwest can expect both more drought and more extreme rain events. If emissions are left unchecked, higher temperatures will likely cause salmon to lose habitat, disrupt Northwest crops such as cherries, and contribute to more wildfires.