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Originally published December 8, 2009 at 2:53 PM | Page modified December 9, 2009 at 1:30 AM

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Seattle's greenhouse gas emissions in 2008 were below 1990 levels

The city of Seattle announced this afternoon that its greenhouse gas emissions in 2008 were 7 percent below what they were in 1990 — a target the city had hoped to meet by 2012. But it's not at all clear how or if the city will still meet the goal three years from now.

Seattle Times environment reporter

The city of Seattle announced this afternoon that its greenhouse gas emissions in 2008 were 7 percent below what they were in 1990 — a target the city had hoped to meet by 2012.

The city's outgoing Mayor Greg Nickels, who leaves this weekend to attend the Copenhagen climate talks, said the announcement is a sign that the city is "walking the walk and talking the talk."

After the Bush administration refused to join the international Kyoto Protocol, a treaty capping carbon dioxide and other emissions, Nickels, in 2005, made a name for himself nationally by pledging that Seattle would meet the treaty's goals anyway. It called for capping emissions at 7 percent below 1990 levels. As of August, 965 other cities had joined Nickels' pledge.

But while Seattle has made strides in trying to stem the growth of the emissions that scientists say contribute to global climate change, it's not at all clear how or if the city will still meet the goal three years from now.

Overall, emissions have actually grown since 2005, thanks to population growth, new development and at least one particularly cold winter. Emissions from the single largest polluting sector — cars and trucks — rose 5.5 percent just since 2005. The recession likely prevented them from climbing higher.

In fact, without significant changes vehicle transportation may prevent the city in 2012 from holding emissions to 7 percent below 1990 levels.

"We still have substantial challenges ahead," said Mike Mann, director of the city's Office of Sustainability and Environment.

Still, there's no denying the city has made progress.

Population has increased 16 percent since 1990 even as emissions have declined. Per capita emissions have declined even since 2005.

The declines have come in every major category — homes, commercial buildings, heavy industry — except transportation. Some reductions have been huge, mostly owing to conservation measures and investments by Seattle City Light in renewable energy, and a move away from oil burning for heat.

And even within the transportation sector, emissions from cars have fallen slightly, though that's largely because more of the vehicles on the road get better gas mileage. Emissions from commercial truck traffic are growing.

Still, city officials said many recent changes will bear fruit later. The city has made efforts to boost transit, build more walkable neighborhoods and make parking more expensive, all to get people out of their cars.

Craig Welch: 206-464-2093 or cwelch@seattletimes.com

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