The State of Washington

Population: 7,061,400 (2015)

GDP: US$324,200 million (2012)

Country: US

Total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions per year: 92 MMTCO2e (2015)

Washington is a state in the Pacific Northwest part of the United States. It was admitted as the 42nd state in 1889. Washington’s economy is based on services, financial institutions, high technology, manufacturing (aerospace, food processing, metals and wood products, agriculture, lumber, and tourism. Washington’s information sector contributed nearly one third of its GDP growth in 2012, totalling approximately 9% of its GDP, the most of any state. Significant amounts of trade with Asia pass through the Ports of Seattle and Tacoma, and Washington is the fourth largest exporting state in the US.

Washington is also a leader in clean energy and has the cleanest electricity in the nation due to its significant hydropower capacity. It produces nearly one fifth of all renewable electricity produced in the US.

Washington’s climate is diverse, ranging from temperate rainforests in the far western part of the state, to arid high desert in the eastern part of the state. The Cascade Mountain range splits the state in two, and snowpack in both the Cascade and Olympic mountains plays a vital role in the state’s hydrological cycle. The state has recently experienced unprecedented drought and wildfire seasons. In addition to shrinking snowpack, Washington is also vulnerable to the effects of ocean acidification for its shellfish industry, sea-level rise, and extreme precipitation events.

The state has long been a leader on climate action in the US. In 2008, the Washington state legislature established statewide GHG emission limits, with the requirement to return to 1990 levels by 2020, reduce to 25% below 1990 levels by 2035, and reduce to 50% below 1990 levels by 2050.

In addition, Washington has adopted clean vehicle standards, a renewable portfolio standard, an emission performance standard for baseload power, and has developed an integrated adaptation strategy. The state is currently in the process of developing a statewide cap on carbon emissions.

Climate policy and GHG emissions reduction targets:

GHG reductions limits were established in law by the Washington State Legislation in 2008

  • Return to 1990 levels by 2020
  • Reduce to 25% below 1990 levels by 2035
  • Reduce to 50% below 1990 levels by 2050
  • Current activities

    Flagship initiative

    Washington is currently in the process of developing the first regulatory cap on carbon emissions in the US. This would be a “cap and reduce” program, where affected entities would be assigned a reduction obligation, and could comply with that obligation in a variety of ways, including reducing direct emissions, trading with entities that have been able to surpass their reduction obligation, developing other projects within Washington that reduce emissions (e.g., electrifying fleets, energy efficiency initiatives, etc.), and/or purchasing credits from existing carbon markets (e.g., California, RGGI). As currently designed the rule would cover approximately 60% of statewide GHG emissions. The rule is slated to be proposed in December 2015, with a summer 2016 target for rule finalization.

    Renewable energy

    Washington adopted a renewable portfolio standard in 2006, the second state after Colorado to do so. Electric utilities are required to obtain 15% of electricity from renewables by 2020 and to undertake all cost-effective energy conservation.

    In addition to the federal renewable fuels standard (RFS), Washington has a statewide RFS that sets minimum sales percentages of ethanol and biodiesel.

    Energy efficiency

    Governor Inslee has called for a new statewide program on energy efficiency in buildings, including disclosure, financing, weatherization assistance, energy-neutral new buildings, and inclusion of carbon in cost-effectiveness tests.

    State agencies have the goal to reduce energy use 20% by 2020 from the 2009 baseline. State construction projects must meet the LEED “Silver” Standard or equivalent green building standards.

    The Washington State Building Code Council is working on a pathway that would require a 70% reduction in new building energy use by 2031.

    Washington developed and implemented a mandatory state energy residential code based on the 2012 International Energy Conservation Code.

    Clean transportation

    Washington adopted California Clean Vehicle standards in 2005 for 2009-2016 model years. Washington is one of 14 states to have adopted that standard.

    State agencies are required to purchase zero emission vehicles (ZEVs) where practicable.

    In 2014, Washington enacted tax equity legislation to support the deployment of natural gas transportation fuels, including liquefied natural gas for ships and compressed natural gas for garbage haulers, delivery trucks, and other commercial vehicles.

    The states of Washington, Oregon, California, and the province of British Columbia are working together to advance the West Coast Green Highway, an initiative to promote the use of cleaner fuels. The West Coast Green Highway is over 1300 miles of Interstate 5 stretching from the US border with Canada to the US border with Mexico.

    Waste management

    Washington’s Beyond Waste Plan presents steps to reduce the state’s production of waste and toxic materials, reducing the state’s GHG emissions. The plan builds on the state’s robust recycling infrastructure, and recommends that the entire lifecycle (design, production, use, and disposal), laying out steps the state can take to encourage lifecycle-based product design. The plan also emphasizes the benefits of green building, specifically through the widespread recycling of construction waste, reuse of existing buildings, and improved energy efficiency.

    Innovative financing

    In 2013 the Washington State Legislature appropriated US$36 million to create a new Clean Energy Fund to expand clean energy projects and technologies statewide. The fund provides “a benefit to the public through development, demonstration, and deployment of clean energy technologies that save energy and reduce energy costs, reduce harmful air emissions, or otherwise increase energy independence for the state.” In 2015 the Legislature appropriated an additional US$40 million for a second phase of the Clean Energy Fund.

    Results to date include:

    • Over US$19 million loaned to nearly 1,200 properties for energy efficiency improvements for commercial and residential properties
    • Nearly US$14.5 million to three utilities for four different battery storage systems.
    • Nearly US$6 million in Federal matching fund grants to Washington research institutions testing demand response initiatives between transmission and distribution grid operations.


    The 2012 Washington Department of Ecology adaptation strategy ,”Preparing for a Changing Climate: Washington State’s Integrated Climate Change Response Strategy,” lays out a framework to protect communities, natural resources, and the economy from the impacts of climate change and build capacity to adapt to expected changes.

  • More info

    GHG breakdown by sector (%) Source: Washington State GHG Emissions Inventory, 2012 (December 2014)














    Current power sector mix (%) Source: Washington State Fuel Mix Disclosure Reports for CY 2013 (March 2015)














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