Coloradans are seeing the impacts of the climate crisis all around them – from wildfires that threaten communities and fill the air with health-threatening smoke to shorter winters that lead into fast-melting springs and exacerbate drought. A cluster of counties on the West Slope is already home to one of the nation’s largest hotspots, a region that has warmed more than the critical threshold of 2° Celsius. And some of the worst impacts of warming temperatures and poor air quality are felt in low-income neighborhoods along the Front Range, where people have the least ability to mitigate them.
Why 2 Degrees Celsius?
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 disastrous and life-threatening impacts of climate change.
HOW COLORADO CAN DO ITS PART TO STOP CLIMATE CHANGE
Despite the climate change effects we are already experiencing, Colorado still has a window to act to prevent further global heating. Colorado took crucial first steps in 2019 when state legislators enacted two important laws establishing science-based carbon emission reduction goals. These laws put Colorado among the states pressing for strong action on climate change. Yet in the months since the laws were passed, Colorado has made little progress toward reaching its climate goals. State leaders now need to work quickly and be much more ambitious to achieve the laws’ important goals.
House Bill 19-1261, Colorado’s Climate Action Plan, provides a framework for reducing the pollution that is causing climate change, in two important steps. First, the law sets a goal to reduce overall greenhouse gas pollution 26% by 2025, 50% by 2030, and 90% by 2050, measured against a 2005 baseline. Second, the law directs the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission to develop rules that will enable the state to achieve those goals.
Another law passed in the 2019 legislative session — Senate Bill 19-096 — requires a robust greenhouse gas inventory to inform policy making and directs the Air Quality Control Commission to adopt rules that would allow the state to meet its greenhouse gas emission reduction goals.
VOLUNTARY ACTIONS ARE NOT ENOUGH TO MEET COLORADO’S CARBON GOALS
Colorado has been among the states leading in voluntary actions to reduce carbon emissions. Colorado provides tax credits to incentivize voluntary adoption of electric vehicles, and the state’s electric utilities have taken important steps to reduce greenhouse gas pollution from the power sector. Yet these and other voluntary policies will not drive enough greenhouse gas reductions across the state’s economy to meet the goals set in the 2019 laws.
In fact, a recent analysis shows that if Colorado continues with business as usual, the state will exceed its science-based climate goals by roughly 30 million metric tons of greenhouse gas pollution in 2025, 46 million metric tons in 2030, and 109 million metric tons in 2050.
To meet the goals established in Colorado’s Climate Action Plan, the Air Quality Control Commission must quickly adopt enforceable policies that will send the right signals to polluters and close the emission reduction gap.
Coloradans want ambitious climate action:
Colorado voters urgently want the state to take ambitious action to achieve the state’s climate goals.
- A February 2019 poll by Global Strategy Group found that 84% of Colorado voters want federal and state action on climate change, and 79% support moving the state to 100% clean energy by 2045.
- A majority of Colorado voters, by a 61%-22% margin, support the state’s leaders taking strong action within the next year to combat climate change, according to a May 2020 poll. Notably, the May poll occurred in the middle of the COVID-19 health crisis.
WHERE DOES COLORADO GO FROM HERE?
Addressing climate change and meeting the state’s science-based goals will require transformational change across all sectors of the economy. While this transition will be challenging, it will also bring immense benefits: improving air quality, advancing equity, protecting public health, and spurring innovation and job creation. The challenge now is to ensure the state takes prompt and ambitious action.
Rules and regulations can drive these changes. The Air Quality Control Commission should adopt regulations that are quantifiable, enforceable, and equitable.
- Quantifiable: The rules or policies must show measurable progress in meeting the science-based goals.
- Enforceable: Any regulations should provide certainty, to ensure that programs and policies achieve the emissions reductions needed by 2025, 2030, and beyond.
- Equitable: The rules should ensure the benefits of climate action are shared across the state, especially in communities that have historically borne a disproportionate burden of pollution.
Steps Colorado can take to achieve its climate goals include:
Replace fossil fuels with zero-carbon sources
Continue investing in energy efficiency
Increase the fuel efficiency of medium- and heavy-duty vehicles
Reduce the carbon intensity of transportation fuels
Electrify a significant portion of Colorado’s light-duty vehicles – at least 940,000 electric vehicles in the states by 2030
Adopt new standards to electrify medium- and heavy-duty vehicles
Adopt more efficient building codes
Electrify or use alternative clean fuels in homes and businesses
Oil & Gas
Create continuous monitoring and stringent pollution controls to catch and fix leaks of fugitive methane emissions
Assess applications for new permits to drill, in light of the state’s greenhouse gas reduction goals
Electrify or use new technologies, like carbon capture and storage, to reduce emissions
The Air Quality Control Commission has a critical role to play in establishing emission reduction rules in every sector across the economy and spurring businesses to invest in efficient, low- or zero-carbon technologies.
WRA is at the table advocating for strong, enforceable, quantifiable, and equitable policies to meet the state’s climate goals. We are assessing the state’s climate actions and future plans with an eye toward ensuring the science-based goals established in H.B. 19-1261 are achieved. As part of our recommendations, we have encouraged the commission to adopt enforceable emission limits on sectors and sources that could serve as a critical backstop policy. This backstop of enforceable emission limits would ensure that Colorado achieves the needed reductions.
Enforceable limits could take several different forms. Under WRA’s backstop policy, emissions limits would go into effect only if a sector’s emissions were not on a defined emissions trajectory. If the emission limit were triggered for a sector, then individual, source-specific emission limits also would be triggered.
Other alternative policies set enforceable emission limits, but allow sectors and sources more compliance flexibility, such as through trading mechanisms. The commission could also adopt a regulatory policy that sets an emission limit or performance standard for each sector.
A backstop is an insurance policy. It allows several years for new policies, incentives, and voluntary actions to achieve meaningful results and can help spur companies to innovate and invest in low- or zero-carbon technologies, while still ensuring that Colorado doesn’t miss its 2025 and 2030 targets. After all, we only have one chance to get this right.
Colorado can’t afford to wait
It’s not too late to act. Every ton of greenhouse gas pollution we avoid improves our chances of preserving a healthy, livable climate for ourselves and our children.
But the longer we wait to significantly reduce our emissions, the more difficult the task becomes, because deeper and faster emission reductions will be required in order to limit warming enough to avoid the most devastating effects of climate change.
With the federal government rolling back clean air and climate protections, it’s up to states like Colorado to lead the way. The effects we’re already seeing show us how urgent the challenge is:
- Eleven of the 15 largest wildfires in Colorado have happened over the past decade;
- Snowpack, which supplies the majority of Colorado’s water, declined by 41% in Colorado River Basin mountain ranges between 1982 and 2016, and studies show the West faces a megadrought;
- Denver-Aurora ranks 10th on the American Lung Association’s list of most polluted cities for ozone pollution, and that pollution is exacerbated by climate change; and
- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently downgraded Denver and other Colorado counties’ ozone status from “moderate” to “serious.”
We can’t afford to let the impacts of climate change become even worse. We need state agencies to act quickly to implement the rules and regulations that will achieve Colorado’s climate goals and ensure a livable environment for future generations.