Greenhouse gases

We are working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to protect Washington's economy and environment from the effects of climate change. We track emission sources and require large facilities and state agencies to report their emissions. We publish an inventory of greenhouse gas emissions in Washington every two years.

What are greenhouse gases?

The term "greenhouse gases," or GHGs, covers a wide variety of gases that, once they are released into the atmosphere, trap the sun’s heat. When the sun’s energy reaches the Earth's atmosphere, some of it is reflected back to space and the rest is absorbed and trapped in the lower atmosphere, heating the Earth. This is called the "greenhouse effect."

Up to a point, the greenhouse effect helps keep the Earth at a temperature suitable for life. As more greenhouse gases are pumped into the atmosphere, however, the temperature increases and there's a risk of creating feedback effects that could make the Earth warmer still.

Naturally occuring greenhouse gases:

  • Water vapor (H2O)
  • Ozone (O3)
  • Carbon dioxide (CO2)
  • Methane (CH4)
  • Nitrous oxide (N2O)

Human-made greenhouse gases:

  • Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs)
  • Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs)
  • Perfluorocarbons (PFCs)
  • Sulfur hexafluoride (SF6)
     

Atmospheric concentrations of both the natural and human-made greenhouse gases have been rising over the last few centuries due to the Industrial Revolution, population growth, and our dependence on fossil fuels. 

GHG reduction goals

To help slow climate change, Washington's Legislature set the following emission reduction targets in 2008:

  • By 2020, reduce total GHG emissions to 1990 levels. ​
  • ​By 2035, reduce total GHG emissions to 25% below 1990 levels.
  • By 2050, reduce total GHG emissions to 50% below 1990 levels.

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Reporting and inventories

We require facilities and state agencies to report their emissions and publish an inventory of Washington's greenhouse gases to help us design policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and track progress.