NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


December 4, 2007

Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels recently announced that the city had met the goal of reducing Seattle's CO2 emissions to the levels called for in the Kyoto Protocol.  Unfortunately, it took some accounting tricks to get there, says Todd Myers, Director of Environmental Policy at the Washington Policy Center.

The very real problem is that the impact of carbon on global warming is very different from the impact of auto emissions on smog:

  • Auto emissions are local and the communities where the emissions occur are largely the communities that are harmed.
  • This is not the case with carbon emissions; one ton of carbon emissions in Seattle has an impact on Zimbabwe, for example.
  • As a result, shifting CO2 emissions from inside the city limits to outside has no impact on global warming, whereas a shift in other types of emissions would impact those problems.

Seattle understands this, but still used this accounting trick to drive their total emissions numbers lower, says Myers:

  • For instance, the City of Seattle divested its stake in the Centralia coal-fired plant, which is the largest emitter of CO2 of any power plant in the state.
  • Centralia continues to produce energy and emit CO2, but the emissions are simply not counted against Seattle.
  • Since CO2 emitted anywhere affects everyone, this shifting of responsibility for those greenhouse gases does nothing to actually address the issue.

Where the city did succeed was in the trend of homeowners and businesses switching from oil heating to gas heating; almost entirely a product of economic forces, says Myers.  If the people of Seattle want to take a lesson, it should be that economic factors act more quickly and efficiently than bureaucratic strategies and efforts to centrally plan CO2 reduction. The Mayor's policies had little, or nothing, to do with this achievement.

Source: Todd Myers, "Seattle Uses Accounting Tricks to Claim Kyoto Success," Washington Policy Center, November 2007.


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