Impacts of climate change on the West

Climate change is the defining issue of our time. Over the course of 150 years of industrialization, globalization, population growth, large-scale agriculture, and deforestation, we’ve witnessed greenhouse gas emissions drive up global temperatures. Here in the Interior West, we’re already witnessing some of the devastating consequences that go along with a warmer climate:






The consensus among the world’s scientists is that we need to limit the rise in global temperature to 2° Celsius – and strive to limit warming to 1.5° Celsius – to avoid the most damaging impacts of climate change. We can’t afford to wait to take action.

The Interior West is key in the fight to address climate change. With one the fastest-growing populations in the nation, this region has immense potential to take meaningful steps to ensure a healthier and better future for ourselves and future generations, by reducing the emissions that drive climate change.

Targeting Carbon Emissions

The most abundant greenhouse gas, and the main cause of global temperature rise, is carbon dioxide (CO2). Reducing these carbon emissions, which are largely the product of burning fossil fuels, can have a real impact in addressing climate change. Burning fossil fuels occurs across all energy sectors, and knowing where to start is an important part of our solution.

Total Emissions in 2018 = 6,677 Million Metric Tons of CO2 equivalent. Percentages may not add up to 100% due to independent rounding. The EPA has prepared the Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks since the early 1990s.

Decarbonizing Electricity & Transportation

In the Interior West, electricity generation continues to be the single largest source of the carbon pollution that drives climate change. But reducing emissions from the electricity sector is not enough. Other sectors, such as transportation as well as home and industrial heating, also need to be electrified and powered with clean, renewable energy and other low- or zero-emission technologies. The challenge is great, but tools exist to make the required changes within this time frame if we continue to take bold action.

Nationally, the importance of tackling emissions from transportation and buildings is even more stark: for nearly 40 years, electric utilities were the leading source of greenhouse-gas emissions in the United States. But in 2016, the transportation sector surpassed the electric utility sector for the first time. The shift happened in part because the power sector is generating more electricity from carbon-free sources and technologies. However, as you can see in the figure below, the power sector is still the largest source of carbon emissions in the states where WRA works to advance clean energy to fight climate change.

Interior West Carbon Dioxide Emissions from Fossil Fuel Consumption, 1980-2017. Carbon emission totals for each year are from the six states where WRA works on climate change issues, including Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming. The chart shows yearly carbon emissions from the electric power, transportation, industrial, residential, and commercial energy sectors. Source: EIA.


Why Focus on the Power Sector?

The power sector continues to be the largest source of carbon emissions in the Interior West. It’s also key to driving down carbon emissions from transportation and buildings. We need the electricity that powers our cars and heats our building to come from clean and renewable resources. At the same time, renewable energy resources have become cheaper than fossil fuels across our region, and more utilities see opportunities in a clean energy future and believe it is in their financial interest to make that transition.

Bottom line: transforming the power sector will set our region on a trajectory to decarbonize other sectors. There is still much work to be done to replace coal-fired power with renewables and battery storage across the Interior West.