Posted: January 18, 2024
Even within the limits of bureaucratic phrasing, a new state report on greenhouse gas emissions in Colorado manages to capture the cataclysm that global warming is already inflicting. Monster wildfires. Water depletion. Farm failures. Extreme heat. Displacement of people.
These and other environmental disasters are at least mentioned in the “2023 Colorado Statewide Inventory of Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks,” released late last month. The effects of climate change are indeed so apparent to Coloradans that to downplay or deny them in a government paper would be instantly discrediting.
But release of the report also came with an admission from the administration of Gov. Jared Polis that its efforts to reduce greenhouse emissions have fallen short of the state’s own targets, which are written into state law. What’s so exasperating about the admission is that climate advocates for years have insisted, loudly and consistently, that the state wasn’t doing enough, and they predicted the state would miss the targets.
The effects of climate change are indeed so apparent to Coloradans that to downplay or deny them in a government paper would be instantly discrediting.
So, what’s the lesson? Polis’ general preference for a market-driven and voluntary approach to the climate crisis is hurting Coloradans, especially in already vulnerable communities, and as worsening conditions threaten the lives and well-being of residents throughout the state, policymakers must pivot to more urgent action.
Colorado can claim some climate triumphs, and its reputation as a leader on environmental protections is in part justified. In 2004, Colorado became one of the first states to adopt a renewable portfolio standard for power utilities, and in 2014, it became the first state to regulate methane emissions from oil and gas production.
Major environmental legislation was enacted in 2019, such as a law that requires certain electric utilities, like Colorado’s largest, Xcel Energy, to submit clean energy plans that promote reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. The state that year also codified its landmark greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets: 26% below 2005 levels by 2025, 50% by 2030 and 90% by 2050. These targets were boosted last year by legislation that added five-year interim targets and for the first time committed Colorado to net-zero emissions by 2050.
In parallel to this laudable record, however, the Polis administration has repeatedly balked at taking the aggressive posture necessary to fulfill the state’s express climate goals. A former state air quality commissioner, Auden Schendler, told Newsline in 2020 that Poils “doesn’t want heavy-handed regulation, and that’s the only thing that’s going to get you to these targets.”
This truth has been reinforced ever since, and each new indicator has shown the state increasingly unlikely to meet the first statutory target in 2025.
A couple of weeks ago, the state released the latest greenhouse gas emissions inventory, which assesses and quantifies the scale of emissions from power generation, transportation, building fuel use and other sources in Colorado. Along with the inventory the latest projections show the state will miss the first target, less than a year away, by about 20%.
Of course it will — the admission merely validates those who for five years warned that the Polis administration’s “iterative” pace puts Coloradans in danger. Think about what climate-related disasters have occurred since the emissions targets were enacted: The state’s three largest wildfires in history tore through the mountains in 2020, its most destructive wildfire in history razed 1,000 homes the following year, and aridification has continued to pose a water-supply crisis.
But even the state’s own disappointing projection is almost certainly too optimistic. For example, late into its drafting, representatives from Environmental Defense Fund and Western Resource Advocates noted that the state’s baseline projection of emissions reductions include “aspirational assumptions” about some conditions that probably won’t materialize, double counts some reductions, and omits altogether emissions from land use and changes in land use, such as in the state’s vast forests.
We can assume that the state will miss the target by even more than officials admit.
“Every year Colorado fails to keep pace with cutting pollution persistently towards those goals leads to more pollution built up in the atmosphere,” Alex DeGolia, a Colorado resident who heads the Environmental Defense Fund’s state climate strategy, told Newsline last week.
The disastrous effects of that pollution often falls especially hard on low-income neighborhoods, communities of color, and other historically marginalized Coloradans, as recognized by EnviroScreen, a Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment mapping tool meant to advance environmental justice.
“When you look at the vulnerability around climate, whether that’s flooding, heat island impacts, energy costs, air quality, it will continue to be those that are most vulnerable by the CDPHE EnviroScreen score that will be harmed the most, as we continue to miss our goals and our target,” said Ean Tafoya, the Colorado state director for GreenLatinos.
The targets don’t exist for their own sake. They were implemented to protect the health and lives of Colorado residents and contribute to the world’s response to an existential human emergency. Missing them should not be an option. Exceeding them should be a state imperative.
The state will miss its 2025 target, but how can it achieve the 2030 target? Note that components of the state’s emissions reduction approach that have proved especially effective — clean energy plans, methane regulation — involve requirements, not voluntary action. If the Polis administration wants to correct course, it will acknowledge what environmental advocates have said all along and what its own projections prove: Reliance mainly on market forces to confront the climate crisis will result in failure.
- This Colorado Teacher Fights to Make a Change for Bilingual Students - February 29, 2024
- Washington, D.C. Tries to Catch Up With AI’s Use in Health Care - February 29, 2024
- Resilience in the Wake of a Killing - February 29, 2024