Proposed Climate Action Fund

On November 8, 2021, Mayor Seth Fleetwood proposed to City Council that the City seek a source of continuous revenue for implementing critical elements of the 2018 Climate Action Plan and achieve these goals:

  1. Reduce carbon pollution as quickly as is feasible to meet Bellingham’s emissions reduction targets;
  2. Adapt to a changing climate including extreme weather events;
  3. Serve our most vulnerable populations first;
  4. Create climate-focused jobs to fill our local labor needs.

Technological and programmatic tools exist and are readily available for Bellingham to reduce emissions and adapt to a changing climate, but funding for these initiatives is not yet available. A Climate Action Fund would help fill gaps in local, state, and federal funding, enabling Bellingham to meet its goals more quickly and effectively.

To meet Bellingham’s ambitious goals, we need solutions with big impacts. City staff propose investments in the following areas:

The goal of investing in renewable electricity is to reduce the carbon content of electricity used by the Bellingham community. Currently, Bellingham uses 660 million kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity annually, which accounts for more than 1/3 of the community’s carbon pollution.

Potential renewable electricity investments could include:

  • Large scale purchases through Power Purchase Agreements or changes in Washington State’s Community Choice Aggregation laws. The City would scale its purchases relative to the carbon content of electricity in the grid.
  • Distributed solar production for residential and commercial buildings including community solar projects.

Serving vulnerable communities through renewable electricity investments could look like subsidizing potential electricity cost increases for low-income individuals and investing in community solar options where participants benefit financially from solar production.

Investments in low-carbon transportation would include programmatic investments to help residents use our current transportation system as well as investments in electric vehicle and electric bicycle technology. Funding is needed for low-carbon transportation programs and infrastructure that are not covered by the Bellingham Transportation Fund. The Transportation Fund covers capital improvements on publicly-owned land such as bike lanes, sidewalks, and electric vehicle charging stations on public property.

Transportation accounts for 1/3 of the community’s carbon pollution. Currently, 68% of all trips taken in Bellingham are in vehicles with a single occupant, with a goal of reducing this to 50%. As of January 2022, there were 1,260 electric vehicles (EVs) registered in Bellingham. The City has a goal to increase this number to 68,000 EVs by 2030, which is 40% of all registered Bellingham vehicles.

Potential low-carbon transportation investments could include:

  • Education programs to help residents walk, bus, and bike to work
  • Incentives for publicly accessible EV charging on private property
  • Incentives for private charging for homes and businesses
  • EV purchasing incentives for e-bikes

Serving vulnerable communities through low-carbon transportation investments could look like facilitating the use of the used EV market, supporting community EV ownership, and providing charging options for multi-family residences.

Electrification of buildings is aimed at transitioning our space and water heating systems away from natural gas and toward using electricity from low-carbon energy sources (see Renewable Electricity, above). Coupling electrification with energy efficiency – or using less energy to provide the same or better energy services – would enable residential and commercial buildings to efficiently use electricity for space and water heating.

Potential electrification and energy efficiency investments could include:

  • Incentives for electrification and efficiency measures for residential and commercial buildings
  • Capital improvements to City buildings
  • Workforce development, which would include partnerships with local educational institutions to support workforce education and training

Serving vulnerable communities through these investments could look like significantly lowering the cost of equipment and labor for low-income individuals, as well as training and hiring from overburdened communities for local work.

Investments in adaptation efforts would seek to help Bellingham, especially our vulnerable communities, adapt to climate change impacts. Extreme weather events such as the Pacific Northwest heat dome in summer 2021 and the flooding events in November 2021 are expected to continue and worsen over time because of climate change. Wildfire smoke events are also predicted to increase. Currently, few buildings in Bellingham are air conditioned and residential development is increasing building proximity to forests.

Potential investments in adaptation could include:

  • Providing air conditioning equipment
    • Electric heat pumps for common areas in subsidized housing
    • Portable AC units for home-bound residents
  • Providing air filtration units for common areas and home-bound residents
  • Tree planting program for public and private spaces
  • Public cooling stations and home cooling kits
  • Fire buffer maintenance and wildfire education

Learn more about the type of work a Climate Action Fund would support on the City’s Climate Action webpage.

Community Feedback

Feedback from the community is essential to help the City determine how best to utilize funding to maximize community benefits. Since February 2022, the City has:

  • Hosted two virtual public feedback forums
  • Hosted six focus groups with community organizations, representatives working with vulnerable communities, businesses, local government
  • Given various community presentations
  • Accepted online feedback through Engage Bellingham

A summary of public feedback is available on Engage Bellingham.

If the proposed Climate Action Fund is approved in the future, there will be opportunities for the community – especially vulnerable communities – to provide feedback on program development.

More Information

Since November 2021, City staff have been researching funding mechanisms, program areas, and financial needs for climate action work. Staff have been presenting their findings to City Council and the community. Additionally, staff have been collecting feedback from the community since February 2022 online through Engage Bellingham and at several community and stakeholder forums. The timeline below shows what we have completed and what’s coming up next for the proposed Climate Action Fund process.

  • November 2021: Mayor Seth Fleetwood proposed Climate Action Fund idea
  • January 2022: Staff presented Climate Action Fund program outline (Agenda Bill 23242)
  • February – March 2022: Climate Action Fund community engagement. The City hosted 2 public forums, six focus groups, and multiple community presentations about the Climate Action Fund. Community members were invited to share ideas and feedback on Engage Bellingham.
  • March 2022: City hosts Community Voices on Climate Action Town Hall
  • March – May 2022: Staff propose Climate Action Fund idea to Council in three parts:
  • June 6, 2022: City staff will present a Climate Action Fund Resolution to Council.
  • June 27, 2022 (CANCELLED): Bellingham City Council will no longer be holding a Public Hearing on the Climate Action Fund proposal. Mayor Seth Fleetwood announced a pause on the proposed Climate Action Fund ballot measure on June 21, 2022.

Climate change is not unique to Bellingham, in fact it is a crisis that is already effecting every region across the globe and requires immediate action to reduce its impacts. The size of the problem means that every community needs to contribute to the solutions. In Bellingham, we must reduce our greenhouse gas emissions as much as possible, and we need to do it now. A recent special report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change states that world governments must exceed current emissions reduction targets to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, with an emphasis on meeting interim targets in 2030. Given this reality, the 2020s are seen as a critical decade of action on climate change.

In the 2018 Climate Action Plan, Bellingham adopted goals to reduce community emissions by 40% by 2030 and 85% by 2050 against a 2000 baseline. On September 23, 2021, Mayor Seth Fleetwood signed the international Race to Zero pledge which commits Bellingham to using new science-based reduction targets in our 2023 Climate Action Plan update. This commitment will help Bellingham do its part to keep global warming to 1.5° Celsius.

To meet these ambitious goals, we need solutions with big impacts. Technological and programmatic tools exist and are readily available for Bellingham to reduce emissions and adapt to a changing climate, but funding for these initiatives is not yet available. While the total cost for Bellingham’s transition to a zero-carbon, climate-resilient city is currently unknown, making substantial progress on these priorities requires additional funding resources not provided at the local, state, or federal level at this time. Current state and federal funding for climate action is limited, especially relative to adopted City targets. A Climate Action Fund would help fill this funding gap, enabling Bellingham to meet its goals.