Answer to climate crisis is action, leaders say at summit

Based on an analysis by Rocky Mountain Institute, Colorado is not on track to meet its climate goals

Arn Menconi
Special to The Aspen Times
A sober warning outside the Climate Solutions Summit in Breckenridge.
Courtesy of Arn Menconi

A recent study by Bloomberg Philanthropies shows that state and local governments can meet three-quarters of the United States’ climate commitments under the Paris Agreement.

Ten years ago, local governments didn’t have climate action plans. Now, many of the mountain towns are leading the path in reducing waste, electrification, public transit, land use, and building codes.

Wednesday — day two of the Mountain Towns 2030 Climate Solutions Summit — climate advocates, elected officials and staff of Rocky Mountain towns from Idaho, Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana and others were cramming in discussions on ways to lead the nation with bold goals and implementing climate action.

“The climate only cares about one thing. It cares about action,” said Jerome Tinianow, former chief sustainability officer for the city and county of Denver. “Towns should be spending most of their time on energy efficiency for buildings and vehicles, conversion of buildings to electricity, mobility to get people out of their cars and people driving alone. Towns need climate action plans and to check on their commitments annually.”

Colorado legislators passed a bill in 2021 that provides a road map for an achievable pathway to meet the state’s science-based climate targets of 26% by 2025, 50% by 2030 and 90% by 2050 from 2005 levels that were part of House Bill 19-1261 Climate Action Plan to Reduce Pollution.

Yet, based on an analysis by Rocky Mountain Institute, the state is not on track to meet these climate goals.

“The shortfalls in global climate targets increase urgency for organizations, mountain towns and companies to find their biggest leverage points of climate action,” said Hannah Berman, senior manager of sustainability and philanthropy at Aspen Skiing Co.

“It’s easy to get caught up in sexy small stuff like garden projects, but the main chunk of emissions in Aspen comes from buildings, and that’s why we have to do the grunt work on building efficiency and electrification,” she said. “We need to electrify everything, and that electricity needs to come from clean power. Aspen Skiing Co is making new buildings all electric, and working with Holy Cross Energy to reach 100% clean energy by 2030. And, it’s not enough for our community to do these things. We need to tell the stories of this work to create political pressure for systems, building codes and utilities to change.”

“I’m enjoying this conference because it brings elected officials, government employees and the private sector together for cross-conversion and for the same goals,” said Aspen Mayor Torre, who also attended the 2019 summit. “We have an amazing transit in our valley and are pushing for more ridership to get single-occupant vehicles off the road. Aspen Building IQ is one of only nine communities in the country doing this. Benchmarking performance of building to get greater efficiency in existing stock. New buildings are getting to net-zero efficiently.”

What many climate geeks here are talking about is the most recent bundle of incentives, tax credits and funds the federal government passed.

“There’s been some really great news. With the passage of the Infrastructure & Jobs Act and Inflation Reduction Act, there’s going to be over $500 billion to invest that will get us to a third of what we need to be on track for net zero by 2050,” said Nels Johnson, senior adviser of renewable energy at the Nature Conservancy. “Now, the question is if we can make these projects happen.”

“As a climate activist and young professional working in sustainability, my main takeaway from Mountain Towns 2030 is that we have so much reason to hope,” said Diego Gonzalez, energy program manager at Cloud City Conservation Center in Leadville. “We have the solutions. We are simply lacking the political will to implement them. As a Latin American, I want to advocate for leaders to not forget that climate justice is as important as the decarbonization and electrification we all want. It’s going to take each and every one of us contributing and working together to save our future on this beautiful planet.”

Luke Cartin, one of the founders of MT2030, said he hopes “that the drive and inspiration to make real impact will be brought home to each community. I hope these communities feel emboldened to take bold steps and help each other achieve their goals.”

Arn Menconi, a former Eagle County commissioner, is a resident of Carbondale and a climate reporter.