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Recommendation: 43

Status: Underway

Take aggressive, comprehensive, and sustained action to reduce human-caused greenhouse gas emissions, with the goal of achieving net zero emissions by 2050.


Action 1

Take immediate action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at the individual, organizational, and community levels, and across the public, private, and nonprofit sectors.

Action 2

Build on policies and initiatives to increase investments, regulations, and incentives that lead to sustained reductions in emissions during the next 30 years.

Action 3

Monitor emissions reductions and take actions to limit planetary warming to 1.5-2°C.

Action 4

At the state level, provide leadership to reduce emissions in government operations and engage collectively with other states, the private sector, and civil society to advance national and international solutions to reduce emissions.

Action 5

Inform and engage people about the connection between orcas, salmon, climate change, and human well-being.

Action 6

Engage and meet the needs of disproportionately affected communities that are adversely affected by the transition to low- or zero-carbon energy sources.

Implementation Details

With a focus on a vision of a thriving Southern Resident population, the task force supports immediate, aggressive, and sustained action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions locally, regionally, and globally. Actions can occur at all levels and be undertaken by individuals, organizations, and governments across the public and private sectors and civil society.

While it is beyond the task force’s expertise to define specific policies and actions to reduce emissions, the science is clear that planetary warming must be stabilized at 1.5-2°C above preindustrial levels to limit the consequences of climate change. Most of the greenhouse gas emissions in Washington are from transportation, electricity generation, and residential, industrial, commercial, and agricultural activities.1

Graphic pie chart of greenhouse gas emission sources

Although it does not endorse any specific activities or policies, the Governor’s Southern Resident Killer Whale Task Force urges all members of the Washington community to examine their own contributions to the problem and both directly take, and advocate for, forceful action and policies to reduce emissions.

The Legislature

The Legislature, together with other local and regional governments and agencies, must continue to advance and adopt policies, investments, incentives, and regulatory frameworks that can catalyze dramatic reduction in emissions generated in Washington during the next 30 years.

In addition to individual actions, a policy framework and investment are needed to restructure the economy, ensure equity, address dislocations to workers and businesses, and accelerate the transition to a low-carbon future.

In 2018, the Washington State Legislature passed significant policies, such as Senate Bill 5116, the 100 Percent Clean Electricity Bill, that will lead to clean energy investments and emission reductions over time. More action, however, is needed to establish policies and frameworks to do the following:

  • Reduce emissions in the transportation, building, commercial, and industrial sectors
  • Encourage sequestration and emissions reduction in the agricultural and forestry sectors and in other terrestrial and coastal habitats
  • Incentivize innovations that will achieve deep de-carbonization over the longer term.

There are tables in the task force report presenting an overview of alternative policy options, categorized into four broad types and linked to the major sources of emissions.

While broad consensus exists in Washington on the need for action to reduce emissions, each of the policy options has advantages and disadvantages in terms of efficacy, cost, equity, and who is most impacted. They are supported or opposed to varying degrees by different constituencies, sectors, and organizations. Experts have concluded that no single “silver bullet” policy will be the solution, but rather, a suite of complementary policies is necessary In this context, possible State actions include developing a comprehensive plan to achieve reductions across all major sectors of the economy, prioritizing near-term actions that address the largest source of emissions (i.e., transportation), and having the Legislature create legal accountability to achieve the associated targets.

To benefit Southern Residents, actions that both reduce emissions and improve resiliency warrant priority consideration. Actions include investments in forest health, riparian and habitat restoration, and agricultural practices that both sequester carbon and reduce runoff. In addition, many regulations and policies that serve to reduce emissions also will improve the health and well-being of the Salish Sea and its inhabitants including the orca, and vice versa.

Education about the co-benefits of strong climate action may help build support for the policies and actions needed to address the problem at scale.

State and Local Government

Within state and local government, actions that provide leadership in reducing emissions and have a nexus with the Southern Resident include Executive Order 18-01, which directs Washington State Ferries to move to a zero-emissions fleet. The task force endorses full and accelerated implementation of this executive order, while also addressing the associated noise issues that affect the orca.

Other actions the State could take directly to reduce emissions include electrifying its vehicle fleets and providing support for local governments and school districts to electrify their fleets. Such leadership will help accelerate the transformation of the transportation sector from gas and diesel to electric-powered vehicles.

In addition to state and local action, Washington State should continue to work collectively with other states, the private sector, and civil society to advance national and international solutions to reduce emissions to scientifically determined safe levels. State-level action is not enough.

Washington State officials and leading Washington-based businesses and organizations must join together to advocate for and advance policies at the regional, national, and international levels.

Task Force Successor

The successor to the task force should maintain a focus on the impact of climate change and ocean acidification on orcas and support the leadership of the Governor, Legislature, and state agencies to advance policies and solutions that reduce emissions.

Support could include providing science-based information on the link between climate change and orca health, advocating for policy action to reduce emissions, and educating the public about why reducing emissions is imperative to the survival of the orca.

Recent Progress

  • In 2023, the Legislature funded an analysis of Washington State Laws Affecting Greenhouse Gas Emissions, and the Department of Ecology is making rules to implement stricter emissions standards, similar to California.
  • The Legislature passed the Climate Commitment Act to create a program to reduce carbon pollution and achieve greenhouse gas limits set in state law. The Legislature set aside $18 million to implement the bill in its 2021 budget.
  • The Washington Department of Commerce received $3.2 million to reduce greenhouse gases through guidance in comprehensive plans. The department will publish guidelines that promote as many benefits of climate resilience as possible, such as salmon recovery, ecosystem services, and supporting treaty rights.
  • The Legislature passed a bill to establish Clean Fuels Standard.
  • The Legislature passed a law amending state greenhouse gas emission limits to be consistent with the most recent assessment of climate change science. The law requires the state as a whole to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
  • The Washington Department of Ecology received $15 million in the 2021 budget to reduce diesel and toxics emissions through a grant program that will electrify school buses and other vehicles, support the installation of idle-reduction technology, and replace diesel engines, Transportation is the largest source of climate pollution in Washington, accounting for nearly half of all greenhouse gases.

More details may be found in the progress reports in the resources library.


1Washington State Department of Ecology, “Washington State Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory,” Olympia, WA