Climate change challenges Durango, Colorado

According to the U.N. Panel On Climate Change report, released on Aug. 9, human-caused climate change is rapid, global and intensifying. In the words of U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, “This is Code Red for humanity.”

All we need to do is look out our windows to see accelerated climate change in action: smoke and haze from Western fires blanket Colorado skies from spring until fall; extreme drought threatens water supplies for human and agricultural consumption; and heavy rains cause devastating mudslides and flooding – all this and more, not only in Colorado but around the world. Some trends are irreversible and will continue for millennia.

Although the climate will continue to warm even if all pollution were eliminated now, the report concludes that it’s not too late to reduce the rate of global warming to 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit from the current projection of 3.6 degrees. That doesn’t sound like much, but that nine-tenths of a degree can make an enormous difference to the most vulnerable human populations and other species. The clarion call couldn’t be clearer. We must act immediately and decisively to avert a catastrophe.

An ambitious emissions reduction program called the Climate Action Plan was passed into law in 2019 (House Bill 1261), setting statewide goals for Colorado to achieve 26% reduction in emissions (from 2005 levels) by 2025, 50% reduction by 2030 and 90% by 2050. In September 2020, the state released its Greenhouse Gas Pollution Reduction Roadmap, drafted by state agencies with input from policymakers and stakeholders across the state. The document outlines a path to achieve the goals of HB 1261. Lawmakers are working to codify steps we’ll need to take to make the target reductions a reality. The roadmap has been called the most ambitious and expansive planning document that Colorado has produced on climate change.

The city of Durango is also taking bold steps through our locally created Sustainability Plan. We’ve set local targets of a 30% reduction in greenhouse emissions by 2030 and 80% by 2050, and established the goal of 50% renewable electricity supply by 2030, with a 100% renewable supply by 2050.

State laws requiring reduced emissions from the industrial, electric, and oil and gas sectors help Durango reduce emissions locally, as do state requirements for greater transparency and accountability from these industries. Because vehicles are the largest contributors of GHG emissions, the roadmap calls for a range of investments to promote and support the use of electric vehicles. Durango has begun “plugging in,” with two new, fast-charging stations at the Transit Center, thanks to state funding and Durango city government working in collaboration with La Plata Electric Association. I recently spoke at the opening celebration of this “first” for our town. It is a giant step forward for Durango and Colorado. A comprehensive transportation package funded by Senate Bill 21-260 will help Durango build the infrastructure we need to expand local mass transit and to support widespread adoption of electric vehicles. The communication and collaboration on the state level that has turned good ideas into bills and bills into state laws is laudable. If Colorado is serious about addressing emissions reductions – and we must be, given the compelling evidence of our warming climate – we must all continue to work to prioritize clean transportation. Mandated transportation emission caps would help Durango and municipalities across the state achieve local emission reduction goals. All of us must participate in finding more efficient ways to travel from home to work, school, retail, recreation, etc. – in other words, reduce GHG vehicle miles by carpooling, ride sharing, park-and-ride options and expanded use of electric vehicles. Here in Durango, we must strive to be a role model in the state, encouraging our residents to leave their cars at home more by continuing to expand existing bike and pedestrian trails and adding routes that provide safe, efficient and environmentally friendly connectivity throughout our community.

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