Two major state environmental groups released a report last week that argues Colorado isn’t doing enough to combat climate change and reach the goals laid out in the Paris Agreement.
The analysis is a joint effort of Conservation Colorado and Western Resource Advocates and offers policy recommendations they say will help reduce the harmful effects of climate change. Colorado is already seeing some of those negative impacts, according to the report, including hotter summers, forests ravaged by pine beetles, and early spring snow melt.
The report comes a couple months after Governor John Hickenlooper signed on to the U.S. Climate Alliance, joining a coalition of states that pledged to uphold the greenhouse gas reduction targets outlined in the Paris Agreement following President Trump’s withdrawal.
Hickenlooper’s executive order commits Colorado to a 26 percent cut in carbon emissions from 2005 levels by the year 2025 in order to reach the Paris goal of limiting the planet from warming more than 2 degrees Celsius. But the new report found that the climate policies the state currently has in place will keep emissions flat at best.
The analysis shows that a much more dramatic cut in emissions and a longer term carbon reduction goal is needed in order to meet the targets laid out in Paris, and proposes that Colorado reduce emissions by at least 45 percent by 2030, and 90 percent by 2050.
There are several policies that the state should adopt to achieve this goal, according to the report.
Much of the state’s carbon pollution is a by-product of providing electricity, so the report recommends that the Public Utilities Commission support efforts to retire coal-fired power plants. It also suggests an overhaul of the transportation system, including moving toward more fuel efficiency under new standards set by the Air Quality Control Commission and enhancing public transit.
The report also suggests a market-based policy to cut emissions, like a carbon tax.
Despite the scientific consensus that we need to act on climate change, many Colorado Republicans were critical of Hickenlooper’s order on the grounds that it lacked collaboration and bipartisanship. It even prompted one State Senator to question the existence of climate change.
Given Hickenlooper’s record as a unifier who tends to take a softer approach than many environmentalists would like, especially when it comes to the oil and gas industry, it’s unlikely he’ll make significant changes to the state’s current climate policy. And with the 2018 gubernatorial election to replace him just around the corner, it may not even make much of a difference.
Colorado’s next governor, not Hickenlooper, will shape the state’s approach to climate change for years to come, and the leading candidates couldn’t have more drastically different views on the subject.
Take Congressman Jared Polis, who is considered to be the Democratic front runner at this early stage in the race. He’s characterized his campaign as pushing bold proposals, one of which is getting the state to rely completely on renewable energy by 2040. He also pushed anti-fracking measures in 2014, and despite ultimately withdrawing those measures from the ballot due to pressure from more centrist Democrats, including Hickenlooper, he’s widely regarded as someone who’s willing to take on the oil and gas industry.
By contrast, Republican State Treasurer Walker Stapleton, a Bush family member whose access to donors puts him at a significant advantage in the gubernatorial race, said in a press release that Polis has been “working for years to destroy the 230,000 jobs that oil and gas supports,” and criticized him for “literally running to kill the oil and gas industry.”
Read more about Conservation Colorado and Western Resource Advocate’s legislative and executive policy proposals here.