Last day of mountain town climate summit was all about urgency
Special to The Aspen Times
In April, UN Secretary General António Guterres said after the release of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 2022 report: “This is not fiction or exaggeration. It is what science tells us will result from our current energy policies. We are on a pathway to global warming of more than double the 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) limit agreed on in Paris 2015.”
“It’s now or never if we want to limit global warming. Without immediate and deep emissions reductions across all sectors, it will be impossible,” said Jim Skea, co-chair of the Intergovernmental Pan IPCC Working Group III. A 2.7 degree rise in one’s body temperature is a fever of 101.3.
Thursday was the last of a three-day conference for mountain towns unified to break the fever. The Climate Solutions Summit provided targeted leadership training and real-world expertise to equip participants with a pathway to carbon neutrality.
According to attendees, this might be one of the most hopeful groups of people implementing climate action because local governments are small, nimble and won’t wait for state and federal agencies.
“In 2007, the only local government with a climate action plan was Aspen. People working on climate plans couldn’t fill a van let alone a conference center,” said Chris Menges, director of climate action at the Nature Conservancy and former climate and sustainability programs administrator at the city of Aspen. “Fast forward to today, and many towns and county governments have a climate action plans. Some are pushing the envelope, like Creste Butte, which is the first in the state to require all electricity in new construction which is having ripple effects across the state.”
With climate professionals from all over the world convening in New York City for Climate Week alongside the UN General Assembly, Mountain Towns 2030 gave the big leaguers a run for their money.
One person steeped in perspective is Jon Stavney — former mayor of Eagle, Eagle County commissioner, Eagle town manager and now executive director of Northwest Colorado Council of Government.
“This is 30 years in the work,” he said. “There was a time when many successes would be one-offs like when Eagle County purchased 20 Toyota Priuses in 2004 and passed some of the first green building codes. The information-sharing between mountain towns with similar goals are partnering to share is something we don’t often see. They are committed to action, implementation and outcomes for their communities. Now, towns with small budgets and staff who need to be fiscally responsible are looking out another 30 years to solutions that are both economically and sustainable together.”
Since the towns first meet in 2019 in Park City, Utah, they have had to deal with the impacts of COVID, but some still found ways to continue protecting the natural environment.
Eagle Mayor Scott Turnipseed gave the audience his simple perspective: “Shortly after the last summit, the town passed a goal of net-zero by 2028 for the town’s assets and 2030 for the community. It’s the job of the elected leaders to set the vision and goals, and staff will find ways for us to get there. If everyone had the full plan worked out before setting the goal, nothing would get done. We had all seven council persons vote in favor of it. I’ve never heard anything negative from our constituents. It’s the first time in my 15 years of public service that I’ve experienced this.”
“The big and next opportunity for local governments is to work together on a regional and systems scale to accelerate an equitable and durable transition that meets our climate goals while improving quality of life,” said Menges. “This means going from city-level climate action plans — which will remain important — to aligning efforts on the scale of our shared systems like ‘travel sheds’ (in our region that is Parachute to Aspen) and electric utility service areas. In some ways, this is happening in many regions, but many additional opportunities remain to ensure that efforts to reduce emissions that are occurring in jurisdictions that share systems are more seamlessly aligned and integrated. This can accelerate greenhouse gas reductions, while also centering equity and improving the lived experience of community members. Collaborating across jurisdictional boundaries at the scale of how people live, work, move and play could help unlock those outcomes.”
Mountain towns are playgrounds for people around the world, and town and county politicians today face the urgency to keep them from being loved to death with the climate crisis. They must decide how many complicated factors are impacting their values — like second homes, private jets and limited resources.
Aspen’s Pete McBride — who’s traveled to over 75 countries to photograph and write for National Geographic, Smithsonian and others — pulled the aperture way back when he gave his auditorium-packed keynote, “Chasing Water,” focusing on the state of water, development and a changing climate across the West.
“Water shortage in the Colorado River Basin and climate change are all connected — and not just downstream, but on everyone’s front door,” he said. “Mountain towns are based on water systems — skiing, river recreation, striking landscapes. So, we all need to become more aware and engaged on water and climate policy initiatives.”
A member of the audience asked him, “Is there hope?”
“Hope has to be earned,” he replied.
Next for the Mountain Towns 2030 collaboration is to aggregate and disseminate best practices in climate action plans, building codes, renewables, electrification, waste reductions, transportation and innovative tactics in preparations for next year’s Summit.
For more information about MT2030 and the Climate Solutions Summit, visit mt2030.org.
Arn Menconi, a former Eagle County commissioner, is a resident of Carbondale and a climate reporter.