Reader view: Why it’s important that Edmonds City Council sets a 1.5°C target

As a resident of Edmonds who was born and raised here and a representative of the 20-something population in the city, I’d like to explain why it is important to me that the Edmonds City Council sets a target of limiting our community’s carbon emissions to 1.5 degrees Celsius (°C).

In December 2015, the first ever legally binding climate change agreement was adopted at the Paris Climate Conference. The main aim of the Paris Agreement is to hold the global average temperature to well below 2°C and to limit the increase to 1.5°C.

As an alternative to signing the Paris Agreement as a nation, states and cities have made their own pledge to ratify the goals of the Paris Agreement in an effort to battle climate change at a state, county, and city level. Within the last five years Seattle has adopted a target of 1.5°C and a goal of net-zero emissions by 2050, the city of Eugene, Oregon has set a community target of 1°C, and Washington State has set a goal consistent with a 2°C target. These temperature targets are not measured locally, but are the result of emissions that align with a certain global average temperature rise.

Here in Edmonds, the city council is looking to adopt our own community target of 1.5°C. What would this look like for Edmonds? A 1.5°C target goal would need to be accompanied by a cumulative reduction goal such as reducing cumulative emissions to 50% below 2010 levels by 2030 and a 100% reduction by 2050. What would a 100% reduction by 2050 look like? In 30 years there would be: no local or imported fossil fuel combustion, reduced consumption of disposable goods, reduced food waste, decreased household energy consumption, and negative emissions actions. How could we accomplish these changes? Through: achieving 100% renewable electricity and electrified transport, purchasing durable and reusable goods, composting food waste and growing gardens, retrofitting homes with energy-efficient appliances and heating, and sequestering carbon through environmental restoration projects. Making these changes would be no small task, but we’ve seen during the COVID-19 pandemic that it is possible for large-scale change to happen rapidly when public safety is at stake.

What makes 1.5°C a magic number? Why 1.5°C versus 2°C? The policymakers of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) asked that same question of IPCC scientists and in the 2018 Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C, they reported that human activities have already resulted in a 1°C increase in global average temperatures compared to pre-industrial levels. Unless major reductions in global emissions are made it is likely that global average temperatures will continue to increase past the 1.5°C mark, reaching a 2°C increase before 2100. The more temperatures rise, the greater the degree of certainty is that irreparable damage will be done to the land and ocean ecosystems that we depend on, magnifying the importance of the 1.5°C mark. Though climate change affects each region of the world differently, there would be some consistent changes such as more extreme warm temperatures, increases in frequency, intensity, and/or amount of precipitation, and an increase in frequency and intensity of droughts.

Our cities were built under a very different climate scenario than we can expect to see in the coming century, by adopting 1.5°C as Edmonds’ temperature target our city council is leading us toward a more sustainable future.

Riley Conley


  1. Actions and ultimate goals notwithstanding, the 1.5 C framing is now out of date. With better models and more historic data, that level of warming is now outside the expected range of outcomes, the new lowest estimate is 2.6 C:
    The good news is, the upper end of the projected range has also dropped from 4.5 C to 3.9 C.
    As someone whose career involves a lot of science communication to nonscientists, I would also suggest that any efforts along these lines use a more visceral, graspable framing of the issue than a temperature. A temperature is not a thing the city is going to do, but reducing emissions by 50% by 2030 is a goal people can easily assess or work towards.

  2. How can this be considered at a time when the current city council is talking about rezoning to allow greater density in the city? If the city council changes zoning laws you can all expect more cars, more people, and more pollutants and waste in our city.

    What’s it going to be city council? Are we pro climate or pro density?

    1. Thanks Riley,
      One thing that I think needs clarifying is the buying of more efficient appliances. I could spend thousands upgrading my gas hot water heater and furnace; maybe go from 80% to 90% efficiency. But if we’re serious about getting to zero emissions, we really need to get our heads around phasing out gas appliances all together.
      It’s a hard sell to ask people to spend thousands on new appliances, but will it be that much worse if they just spent thousands on new gas appliances and then we tell them that they have to replace them again.
      Specific long term road maps will get better results (and buy-in) than generalized temperature indexes.

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