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Fairfax County reports progress on climate change goals

Solar panels on the Woodlawn Fire Station (courtesy Fairfax County Office of Environmental and Energy Coordination)

The public can get a closer look at Fairfax County’s efforts to combat climate change with an updated Climate Action Dashboard.

The dashboard updates, released yesterday (Dec. 18) by the Fairfax County Office of Environmental and Energy Coordination (OEEC), include a new interactive map and sector-specific landing pages, so community members interested in buildings, for example, can view those metrics separately ones about waste.

Overall, the updated dashboard aims to highlight how data informs county decision-making and how positive results come to be through “collective effort,” per a county press release.

So far, progress includes a 30% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions between 2005 and 2020 and an increase in solar installations.

The county has an extensive set of climate-related goals, outlined in three plans. Two of those plans — the Community-wide Energy and Climate Action Plan and the Operational Energy Strategy — focus on emissions, while the third focuses on climate resilience against natural disasters like flooding and heat.

“Resilience means being able to bounce back fully from shocks and stressors that come our way without suffering permanent loss,” OEEC acting director John Morrill told the Board of Supervisors at an environmental committee meeting last Tuesday (Dec. 12).

The county is making progress on a variety of its environmental goals, according to a high-level summary Morrill presented at the meeting.

For example, it’s ahead of where it needs to be to retrofit at least 100,000 housing units with energy efficiency by 2030, and it has surpassed a goal of increasing telework and non-motorized commuting, though the OEEC acknowledges that could “regress” as more workers return to offices after the pandemic.

In other metrics, however, the county is behind its benchmarks. Just 10% of energy in the community comes from clean sources, when it should be at 20% to reach its goal of all clean energy by 2045, and 48% of waste is being diverted from landfills or incineration, a rate that should be closer to 60% to reach 90% by 2040.

Morrill noted that the county has more control when it comes to developing resilience than when reducing emissions.

“Emissions reduction is a national and global effort, and much is beyond our control or even influence,” Morrill said. “We’ll be more clearly defining the factors beyond county control to better calibrate our efforts and expectations to ensure that we are focused on making the most of what the county can do best.”

Morrill compared climate resilience to running on a treadmill as its speed increases, and said it may not be possible to reach 100% resilience.

“Nevertheless, the county’s resilience efforts are crucial to ensuring we do not fall off the back of the treadmill, which in this metaphor would mean permanent loss of life, property and resources,” Morrill said.

At the meeting, Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said community engagement would be key to achieving the county’s climate action goals, including its target date of 2050 for achieving carbon neutrality.

“Without their engagement and involvement, we can’t achieve these overall goals,” McKay said.

An addendum to Morrill’s presentation provided updates on several county initiatives. For example, Charge Up Fairfax — a pilot program that assists residential communities with electric vehicle charging — launched with five neighborhoods this year. Another five neighborhoods were recently added.

Fairfax County’s cooling centers, which got revamped earlier this year, had 251 visits in 2023.

The OEEC will regularly add new and more up-to-date information to its Climate Action Dashboard, according to the press release. The board will receive more detailed information about the county’s progress on its goals early in the new year, Morrill said.

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