County Cuts Greenhouse Gas Emissions by 10 Percent, Study Reports

Photo of a blue sky with wispy clouds.

As 2016 marked the earth’s warmest year on record, we reported good news in our efforts to help curb the region’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Fairfax County achieved a 10 percent reduction per capita of these gases that are causing global warming. The finding comes from a 2016 study conducted for local governments in the D.C. region. It compared emissions in 2005 to those in 2012.

The cut makes good on the county’s pledge to decrease these heat-trapping gasses, said Kambiz Agazi, Fairfax County’s environmental coordinator.

Ten years ago, the county committed to work with local, state and federal governments to limit emissions. Called the Cool Counties Declaration, our county pledged to roll back the D.C. region’s overall emissions to 80 percent below 2005 levels by 2050. We were the first to make this pledge and spearheaded the region’s adoption of this ultimate goal.

In 2010, local governments jointly agreed to:

  • Reduce emissions below 2005 levels by 2012
  • Reduce emissions 20 percent below 2005 levels by 2020
  • Long-term:  Reduce emissions 80 percent below 2005 levels by 2050

Chart showing 10 percent reduction in green house emissions.

Solutions Require Combined Efforts
“We can’t solve global warming without regional, national and international efforts, but we’re committed to doing our part locally.” Kambiz Agazi, Environmental Coordinator.

This includes action by individuals, businesses and governments, as well as the need for new research and technology.

Residents and businesses produce 97 percent of emissions, Agazi said. The county government, including the public schools, account for only 3 percent.

These emissions primarily result from two sources: electricity consumption and transportation. Electricity use generates about 40 percent of emissions regionally while vehicles and planes make up nearly 34 percent. Cars and passenger trucks are responsible for 60 percent of transportation emissions.

As the region’s population and jobs grow, there will be a greater demand for power and more cars on the road. By 2050, we are projected to add about 2.3 million vehicles and 1.5 million jobs.

These facts point out why combined efforts are required. Individuals and businesses can use less electricity and drive less. However, these actions are not enough. State and federal policies are needed that create larger scale emissions reductions.

As an example, Agazi pointed to the new fuel efficiency standards the federal government adopted four years ago.

These CAFÉ standards, combined with local efforts to reduce car trips, result in 17 percent lower emissions in 2050 compared to 2005 levels.

Agazi also cited regulations for power plants as another example. These plants and the electricity grid are one of the largest sources for region’s emissions. Federal policies, like the Clean Power Plan, are necessary to trim the release of carbon dioxide, the predominant greenhouse gas.

Chart of greenhouse gases by sector.



What We’re Doing

As part of Cool Counties, we pledged to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases from county operations. To reduce our carbon footprint, we’re taking steps to:

  • Use energy more efficiently
  • Reduce energy use
  • Prevent, avoid or reduce greenhouse gas emissions

Currently, we are developing an energy strategy for county operations. The purpose of the document is to associate strategies with specific policies and goals articulated by the Board of Supervisors. Specifically, the strategy will provide staff and county agencies with policies, initiatives and programs to support implementation of the Board of Supervisors’ adopted Vision, Energy and Cool Counties Climate Stabilization policies and goals.

These efforts include many county policies and actions:

Reduce Energy Each Year
Green Building Policy
Shutting Down Computers
Hybrid-Electric Cars
Capture Landfill Gases

To learn more about these specific efforts and the county’s other environmental activities, read our Sustainability Initiatives report.

5 Things You Can Do

With simple, easy steps, you can help curb greenhouse gas emissions and save money.

  1. Get expert advice. Energy Action Fairfax can identify energy experts to help homeowners and neighbors learn about common places where energy is wasted, steps they can take, energy audits and more.
  2. Install a programmable thermostat and turn down the temperature. When you are asleep or out of the house, turn your thermostat back 10 to 15 degrees. If you do this for eight hours, you can save about 10percent a year on your heating and cooling bills, based on the U.S. Department of Energy’s figures.
  3. Buy Energy Star-labeled appliances and electronics. Over their lifetime, these products in your home can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about 130,000 pounds, says the EPA. And, they’ll save you $11,000 on energy bills. In some instances, rebates may be available for upgrading to more efficient appliances. Dominion Power, for example, offers its customers $50 to recycle their old refrigerators or freezers.
  4. Take public transportation. A typical passenger car produces just under one pound of carbon dioxide per mile traveled, says the U.S. Department of Transportation. In contrast, subways produce 76 percent less in greenhouse gas emissions per passenger mile and buses create 33 less.
  5. Plant a tree. As they grow, trees sequester carbon dioxide every year, reducing CO2 in the atmosphere. A single tree can absorb up to 48 pounds of CO2 per year, according to research. Every little bit adds up. The total gross carbon sequestration from all trees in the county amounts to about 218,000 tons per year, according to county-sponsored research.
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