Cool Counties Explained

The “Cool Counties” Climate Stabilization Initiative, which the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors adopted in July Cool Counties Logo2007, consists of two major parts. The first is a declaration, or pledge, that contains three key elements. The second is a menu of policies and actions that a local government can take to help it achieve the goals in the declaration. 

Because the first part of the initiative, the declaration, is often misunderstood, this document describes each of its three elements and the actions taken that are related to that element.

Declaration's First Element

The first element asks local governments to begin to reduce their operational greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The first step towards reducing emissions under the declaration is to create a GHG emissions inventory, which provides a baseline measurement and can guide future efforts to cut operational emissions. The second step is for the local government to plan and implement policies, programs and operations designed to achieve significant, measurable and sustainable reductions of its operational GHG emissions.

Actions and Results

Fairfax County created its GHG emissions inventory in 2013, covering the five-year period 2006 to 2010.  The inventory is broader than the GHG emissions inventory described in the declaration because it accounts not only for the county government’s operational emissions, but also includes total emissions from residential, commercial, industrial, transportation and public school sources within Fairfax County. The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) subsequently began work on a GHG emissions inventory for the region as well as for each of its member jurisdictions, including Fairfax County. To ensure consistency across the region, future inventories will be conducted by COG, not the county. Consequently, this aspect of the first element is complete.

The county is also planning and implementing policies, programs and operations to reduce GHG emissions associated with county government operations. Examples include the county’s green building policy for county facilities, adopted in 2008, and its various waste and water initiatives, including use of reclaimed water at county facilities. This is an on-going aspect of the first element. More information on county actions that support Cool Counties is available in the county’s Sustainability Initiatives report.

Declaration's Second Element

The second element of the declaration asks local governments to work closely with state, federal and other local governments in their regions to reduce GHG emissions to 80% below then-current levels by 2050. Regional action is needed because, much like traffic problems, the reduction of GHG emissions is a multi-jurisdictional issue. Reductions in regional GHG emissions will result in reductions within the county.

This element of the declaration envisions creation of a regional GHG emissions inventory and the development of a regional plan that includes short-, mid- and long-term GHG reduction targets. Recommended targets include stopping the growth of regional GHG emissions by 2010 and the achievement of a 10% reduction in emissions every five years thereafter through to 2050.

This second element was intended to engage the nation’s Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) in developing both regional GHG emissions inventories and regional implementation plans. In 2007, when the Cool Counties Climate Stabilization Initiative was developed, regional action on GHG emissions had not yet been put in motion by COG or the region’s MPO, which is the Transportation Planning Board. This element would not begin to see any significant movement until 2009, when regional action began to take effect.

Actions and Results

Because the second element is premised on regional action, the following describes highlights of this regional activity:

2008: On November 12, 2008, the COG Board adopted the National Capital Region Climate Change Report and Recommendations.  The report included GHG emissions reductions goals for the short-, mid- and long-term. 

2009: On April 8, 2009, the COG Board created the Climate, Energy and Environment Policy Committee (CEEPC) to serve as the COG Board’s principal policy adviser on climate change, energy and other environmental issues. The CEEPC was tasked with developing a regional climate change strategy to meet the COG regional GHG emissions reduction goals. 

2010: On January 28, 2010, COG members executed the Region Forward Compact, which included the region’s first official regional GHG emissions reduction targets:

  • Short-term:  Reduce emissions to 2005 levels by 2012
  • Mid-term:  Reduce emissions 20% below 2005 levels by 2020
  • Long-term:  Reduce emissions 80% below 2005 levels by 2050

The Compact’s mid- and long-term targets are the same as those established in the Cool Counties Declaration. The Compact’s short-term goal differs from Cool Counties in that COG’s short-term goal envisioned the region’s emissions leveling off in 2012, not 2010.

Fairfax County has met both the regional short-term goal and the Cool Counties goal of ending emissions growth by 2010. According to the results of its 2013 GHG emissions inventory for the period 2006-2010, discussed above, the county’s GHG emissions in 2010 were approximately 1% below that of its 2006 base year. 

2012: On November 12, 2008, CEEPC adopted a regional strategy – the 2013-2016 CEEPC Action Plan to help guide regional GHG emission reduction efforts. 


  • Regional GHG Inventory:  COG’s regional GHG report, released April 22, 2016, presents GHG inventory results for the Metropolitan Washington region.  Results show the region was able to slightly exceed the 2012 goal, keeping emissions below 2005 baseline levels. The COG inventory is intended to measure GHG emissions as compared to short-, mid-, and long-term goals.

    In addition to creating a GHG inventory for the region, COG also has created an inventory for each of its member jurisdictions.  COG’s fact sheet for Fairfax County includes overall and per-capital emissions changes in Fairfax County from 2005 to 2012, a brief description of the source of the majority of emissions, a description of the emissions activities included in the inventory, and the methodology used to calculate emissions. The COG results show that the county exceeded the 2012 COG goal as in this fact sheet.
  • Regional Action Plan to Achieve GHG Emissions Goals: On January 31, 2016, COG released its Final Technical Report on a multi-sector approach to reducing GHG emissions in the metropolitan Washington region. This report provides context for GHG emissions in the metropolitan Washington region and potential GHG reductions that might be achieved through regional policy actions. The report describes the process used to identify feasible strategies, the methods used for analysis, and the results of the multisector regional strategy analysis.
  • Upon presentation of the Final Technical Report of potential GHG reduction strategies, the COG Board directed staff to review the strategies with a Policy Task Force of elected officials representing COGs relevant policy committees, technical staff from the COG member jurisdictions and state and regional agencies to gauge the feasibility and level of implementation of the potential GHG reduction strategies. On January 11, 2017, the COG Board adopted the Multi Sector Working Group's Policy Task Force recommendations through Board Resolution R68-2016.

Declaration's Third Element

The third and final element of the declaration asks local governments to continue to urge Congress and the Administration to enact a multi-sector national program of requirements and mandatory, market-based limits and incentives for reducing GHG emissions to 80% below 2005 levels by 2050. Further, to continue to urge Congress and the Administration to enact a Corporate Average Fuel Economy (“CAFÉ”) standard that achieves at least 35 miles per gallon (mpg) within 10 years for cars and light trucks.

Actions and Results

On May 19, 2009, the federal government proposed a new national fuel economy program, which adopts uniform federal standards to regulate both fuel economy and greenhouse gas emissions. The program covers model years 2012 to 2016 and ultimately requires an average fuel economy standard of 35.5 miles per US gallon (mpg) in 2016 (or 39 mpg for cars and 30 mpg for trucks), a jump from the current average for all vehicles of 25 miles per gallon.

Although COG is on record as supporting a multi-sector national program of requirements and mandatory, market-based limits and incentives for reducing GHG emissions to 80% below 2005 levels by 2050, the federal government has yet to act on such a program

Fairfax Virtual Assistant