This section of the website contains an overview of major Colorado state government programs and policies especially useful to local governments in helping to provide a framework for their local climate programs.
On September 16, 2015, Governor Hickenlooper announced the release of the finalized 2015 Colorado Climate Plan. The plan is significantly different from the state’s first Climate Action Plan released by Governor Bill Ritter, Jr. in 2007, which focused primarily on reduction of heat-trapping gases and included specific goals and strategies targeting emission sources from specific sectors. By contrast, this plan focuses almost exclusively on state agency actions, and has an overall goal of promoting “ . . state policy recommendations and actions that help to improve Colorado’s ability to adapt to future climate change impacts and increase Colorado’s state agencies level of preparedness, while simultaneously identifying opportunities to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) at the agency level.”
The new state plan was called for in state legislation enacted in 2013, House Bill 13-1293, requiring executive branch annual reports to the Colorado General Assembly on the development and periodic update of a climate action plan and collaboration with other entities regarding climate change preparedness studies. As the media coverage indicates, the plan was produced by state agencies with only limited engagement with stakeholders. The Rocky Mountain Climate Organization was one of the few organizations invited in May to review a draft of the plan, and in our comments, we urged the state government to circulate the draft more widely for comment, including to local governments, which the state declined to do. Instead, the plan says that state agencies will engage in specific stakeholder engagement opportunities over the next year to further the discussion on how Colorado can move forward on implementing the recommendations and strategies listed for the seven sectors covered in the plan.
The plan is best seen as a solid indication that Governor Hickenlooper and his administration have committed to work on reducing heat-trapping pollution and on a climate-change preparedness agenda. The personal engagement of the governor in shaping and releasing this new plan is at least as important as the content of the plan itself.
The Colorado state government announced that it would develop a state plan to comply with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan, and outlined a public engagement process. However, the federal Clean Power Plan rules was stayed by the U.S. Supreme Court, and further state actions are unclear. See this Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment webpage.
In May 2015, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper approved the state’s new “Resiliency Framework” compiled by the Colorado Resilience and Recovery Office. The framework acknowledges the risks of climate change, but Rocky Mountain Climate Organization president Stephen Saunders comments that the real test will be in future detailed actions: “We need the state government to take a lead in providing more information to themselves, to local government and to the citizenry about the Colorado-specific risks we face. We need more detailed assessments. We need much better dispensation of information. We need a central hub [at the state level] for climate-change information.” For more information on what Saunders was referring to, see the April 2015 report of the Colorado Local Resilience Project, a project convened by the Colorado Climate Network and the Colorado Municipal League.
In February 2015, the Colorado Climate Change Vulnerability Study, the first-ever state-specific synthesis of existing information on how climate change may affect Colorado, was jointly released by the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) at the University of Colorado Boulder and Colorado State University. The study was commissioned by the Colorado Energy Office in accordance with the state legislation enacted in 2013, House Bill 13-1293.
The vulnerability study is a summary of existing available data and research results from the peer-reviewed literature, and was compiled by researchers at CIRES, the Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory at Colorado State University, the North Central Climate Science Center, and the National Center for Atmospheric Research. Thirty experts from state offices, consulting groups, academia, and RMCO reviewed the report.
The Rocky Mountain Climate Organization played a key role in bringing the vulnerability study about, first convening those who became the lead authors of the study and bringing them together with the Colorado Energy Office for consideration of their proposal for the study.
The study is a sector-by-sector analysis of the challenges that state residents and leaders will have to deal with in coming decades. Drawing from existing data and peer-reviewed research, the study summarizes the key challenges facing seven sectors: ecosystems, water, agriculture, energy, transportation, outdoor recreation and tourism, and public health. It also describes ways Coloradans are already grappling with these issues, and lays out a general approach state agencies could use in doing vulnerability analyses and preparedness planning. The report’s editors acknowledge that it is intended to be a broad overview, and that it should be considered as a base from which to do more detailed sector-by-sector vulnerability assessments and future preparedness planning.
Under Executive Order D 2013-005, issued by Governor Hickenlooper, the Colorado Water Conservation Board is working to develop a first-ever Colorado Water Plan, to be completed by December 2015. Although the executive order itself did not mention climate change as a factor in shaping Colorado's water challenges -- which it most assuredly is already doing -- the efforts of the CWCB and others to prepare the plan certainly have addressed climate change's impacts on supplies of and demands for water. Details on the plan are available at the state government's separate website for it, coloradowaterplan.com.
In October 2014, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) released the final Colorado greenhouse gas inventory: 2014 update. The report responds to a 2008 Executive Order by then-Governor Bill Ritter, Jr., calling for an update of the state’s 2007 inventory of heat-trapping gases every five years, and instruction by current Governor John Hickenlooper to CDPHE to undertake the update. (His instruction followed the governor’s appearance at the 2012conference of the Colorado Climate Network, when the governor announced his support for the updated inventory.) To generate the inventory, CDPHE used the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) State Inventory Tool (SIT) dated February 2013. This inventory includes a comprehensive summary of 1990-2010 outputs from the current SIT model as well as emission projections for 2020 and 2030.
While a positive step forward, the inventory, as the report acknowledges, is subject to the limitations of using the SIT tool. The bottom line is that it cannot be used to accurately assess the state’s progress towards the goals for emissions reductions established in the same executive order (20 percent reduction of emissions by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050 compared to a 2005 baseline). As the inventory report explains, the inventory generally uses default data generated by several sources that EPA relies upon. In some cases for the tallies of historic emissions from 1990-2010, some more accurate Colorado-specific data was plugged in. However, for the 2020 and 2030 projections, the EPA SIT does not allow for using Colorado-specific data. This means that the projections may not include significant state policy changes scheduled to take effect after 2010, including the emission control strategies adopted for both the electricity and oil and gas production sectors. The report also does not accurately account for emissions from wildfires, either historically or projected forward.
The updated inventory does use actual Colorado data (particularly in the oil and gas sector) through 2010, and it identifies a 6 percent increase from 2005 to 2010. Of that increase, most is in emissions of methane (or natural gas), which accounts for 5 million of the 7 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent by which Colorado’s 2010 emissions were higher than 2005. By comparison, the EPA’s latest national inventory shows a 5 percent decline in nationwide emissions from 2005 to 2010, with national methane emissions essentially unchanged. Measurement of methane emissions is uncertain and controversial, and it is not yet clear to RMCO whether there are important differences in methodology between the state and national inventories and, if so, what to make of any such differences.
The projected 9 percent increase in emissions increase in 2020 (compared to 2005) needs more refinement. As the report appropriately states, “Due to the limitations with the Projection tool, and the failure to account for recently enacted GHG reduction strategies, definitive conclusions about the trend in GHG emissions in Colorado during the next 20 years are not warranted at this time.” Appropriately then, the report recommends that a working group of stakeholders examine the opportunities for improving understanding of emissions from specific sectors of the inventory (including electrical power, oil and gas, and electricity consumption) to ensure that the next update to this inventory is as accurate as possible.
The Western Water Assessment program at the University of Colorado and the Colorado Water Conservation Board in August 2014 released a report, Climate Change in Colorado: A Synthesis to Support Water Resources Management and Adaptation, which updates and expands on the 2008 WWA-CWCB report of the same name. The report is an excellent summary, certainly the best yet, of how climate change may unfold in Colorado. The report is officially designed to be useful to the water provider community but will be equally useful to everybody interested in climate change here. See media coverage in Researchers: Colo. faces warmer future, water supply challenges, Boulder Daily Camera, August 5, 2014, and New report highlights how climate change may affect water in Colorado, phys.org, August 6, 2014.
The report includes new projections on future temperature and precipitation changes, using the latest climate models and emissions scenarios. Importantly, supplemental information posted online by WWA (available via the link at the bottom of this page) presents those projections across all four new emissions scenarios (ranging from one assuming rapid reductions in emission of heat-trapping pollution to another assuming a continued high rate of emission increases) and for two time periods, one centered on 2050 and one on 2070. By contrast, the earlier report from 2008 presented data using only one scenario and only one time period. The new report with its more complete information will be more useful. Local government members of the Colorado Climate Network and the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization helped persuade WWA and CWCB to broaden the climate projections in this report to provide the data across all current emissions scenario and for the two future time periods, not just for one scenario and one time period. As a result of this change, the report presents a much fuller picture of how climate change may materialize here.
The Rocky Mountain Climate Organization has posted its own fact sheet presenting a summary of the information separately developed by RMCO and also contained in the WWA-CWCB report and the online supplemental information posted by WWA but not in the printed report.
In November 2007, Governor Bill Ritter, Jr., announced the state government's Colorado Climate Action Plan. Described by the governor as a first installment and a living document, it outlines broad actions to be taken to achieve the climate-protection goals at its centerpiece: a 20% reduction in Colorado's emissions of heat-trapping gases by 2020 and an 80% reduction by 2050, both in comparison to 2005 levels.
The Rocky Mountain Climate Organization maintains a Colorado Climate Scorecard which tracks the current implementation status of actions to carry out both Governor Ritter's Colorado Climate Action Plan and the recommendations of the RMCO's Climate Action Panel, the only such statewide blue-ribbon panel convened by a nonprofit organization in the country, which developed a report that helped lay the foundation for the official state plan.