Working to keep the West special

RMCO's Colorado Climate Project

In 2005, many state governments had adopted or were adopting climate action plans, often recommended by blue-ribbon panels appointed by a governor. In the interior West, Arizona, New Mexico, and Montana were doing so, but Colorado, under then-governor Bill Owens, was not. The Rocky Mountain Climate Organization filled this void, launching the first, and still only, process by a nonprofit organization to convene a stakeholder panel to develop a statewide climate action plan. Our purpose was to bring Coloradans together to reduce the state’s contribution and vulnerability to climate change.

To appoint our panel and to receive their report, we recruited project directors: John Hickenlooper, then the Democratic mayor of Denver (and now the governor of Colorado); Steve Burkholder, Republican mayor of Lakewood; Doug Hutchinson, Republican mayor of Fort Collins; Tom Long, Republican county commissioner of Summit County; former Senator Gary Hart, the Wirth Chair Professor at the University of Colorado-Denver; Matt Baker, the executive director of Environment Colorado; Gail Klapper, director of the Colorado Forum, a statewide group of business leaders; Pat Vincent, the head of Colorado operations for Xcel Energy; and Al Yates, former president of Colorado State University.

These project directors in 2006 appointed the members of the Climate Action Panel and charged them with their mission. The work of the panel was supported by several policy work groups, comprised of panel members and other Coloradans with particular expertise. Counting both panel and policy work group members and their alternates, a total of 116 Coloradans worked together to produce the panel's recommendations. This apparently is the broadest stakeholder engagement that has gone into any similar statewide effort.

Our project was carried out in partnership with the Center for Climate Strategies, which provided technical analyses for the panel and facilitated its meetings, much as CCS had done with many state governments and other governmental entities across the United States and in other countries.

The work of the panel and policy work groups began with consideration of an inventory and forecast of heat-trapping pollution in Colorado. The inventory and forecast was prepared by the Center for Climate Strategies, which conducted similar inventories for other western states under a partnership with the Western Regional Air Partnership. The panel and policy work groups provided input to CCS on the inventory and the data sources and methodologies used for it. The panel reviewed, approved, and relied on the inventory and forecast in doing its work. In addition to being used in the RMCO project, the inventory was also provided to and used by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

The panel and the policy work groups met for a full year in developing their final report. The report is available in two parts:

  • The main body of the report;
  • The appendices, which contain important details on the panel's recommendations and the supporting analyses.

In its report,the panel recommended 70 actions to reduce greenhouse gases and prepare for the possible effects of climate change. As a result of its year-long work, the panel achieved a remarkable degree of consensus, reaching unanimous agreement on 62 of those recommendations, approving six by super-majority votes (with five or fewer objections), and approving two by simple-majority votes. Also, on 10 recommendations one or more panel members recorded what they called "yes-but" votes, expressing qualified approval of them but also recording in the report concerns they had about particular aspects of those recommendations.

Of the panel's 70 recommendations, 55 deal with reducing emissions and 15 with adaptation actions. Of the adaptation recommendations, 14 deal with preparing for climate change impacts on water supply.

Of the 55 emission-reduction meaures, 33 were quantitatively analyzed in terms of their emission-reduction potential, and of those, 28 were analyzed in terms of their costs or savings. (Some recommended actions, such as public-education efforts, were not susceptible to those kind of analyses.) The recommendations that were analyzed in terms of cost-effectiveness would produce overall net savings to Coloradans of $2.6 billion by 2020.

One key panel recommendation was that the state government should set goals to reduce Colorado's emissions by 20% by 2020 and by 80% by 2050, compared to 2005 levels. The recommendations that were analyzed in terms of emission-reduction potential would, by themselves, achieve three-quarters of the reductions needed to meet the 2020 goal.

In October 2007, the Project Directors accepted the panel's report on behalf of RMCO. As Fort Collins Mayor Doug Hutchinson, a Project Director, said, “This has been a balanced, nonpartisan, centrist process that has produced a strong consensus about the things we can do to reduce our contribution and vulnerability to climate change.”

Within a month, Colorado's Governor, Bill Ritter, Jr., announced his adoption of the emission-reductions goals recommended by the panel and launched the state government's official Colorado Climate Action Agenda to achieve those goals.

The state's official plan was described as a beginning. Compared to the 55 recommendations for reducing emissions made by RMCO's blue-ribbon panel, the Colorado Climate Action Plan:

  • Includes five, in identical terms.
  • Calls for new actions in 11 areas addressed by panel recommendations.
  • Calls for new actions in four additional areas not addressed by the panel.
  • Does not yet address the remaining 35 areas addressed by the panel recommendations.

Compared to our panel's 15 recommendations related to climate preparedness actions, the state's official plan:

  • Includes three of those panel recommendations, in identical terms;
  • Calls for new action in three areas addressed by panel recommendations,
  • Does not yet address the remaining nine areas addressed by the panel recommendations.

Even with the adoption by Governor Ritter of the emission-reduction goals recommended by our panel and of his overall Colorado Climate Action Plan, most of our panel's 70 recommendations and the other elements (some overlapping) of the state's official Colorado Climate Action Plan plan still remain to be adopted, as shown by our Colorado Climate Scorecard, which tracks progress on these fronts.

To win action on the recommendations of the blue-ribbon panel of our Colorado Climate Project, RMCO began follow-up actions in three areas, each focused on a particular type of recommendation. To build on the consensus and personal commitment produced in the Colorado Climate Project, we continue to engage people who worked on the Climate Action Panel and its supporting Policy Work Groups, as well as others, to work on each area.

One initial area of focus was on the recommendations of the Climate Action Panel for actions by local governments in Colorado. RMCO convened a Local Initiative Steering Committee, which rapidly concluded that the fundamental need to get those recommendations adopted was a statewide effort to support local climate programs. That decision led to the creation of RMCO's Colorado Climate Network, as explained on the following page.

Another area of focus is the 14 panel recommendations for action so that Colorado continues to meet its water needs in the face of possible major changes to our snow and water resources. Some of those recommendations were picked up in the state government's official Colorado Climate Action Plan. Now, a Climate Change/Water Initiative Steering Committee, the most broadly representative group in the state considering climate change/water matters, works toward action on those plan elements and recommendations, as described further on our Water Preparedness Program webpage.

RMCO also works for actions on many fronts by the Colorado state government to reduce heat-trapping pollution and to prepare for the challenges we will face in Colorado (see the previous page).

Finally, we acknowledge those without whose support the Colorado Climate Project would not have been possible. The principal sponsors of the Colorado Climate Project were Denver Water, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, and Ms. Pat Stryker. The sponsors were Aspen Skiing Company's Environment Foundation, the City of Aspen, the Colorado River Water Conservation District, and the Rockefeller Family Fund.

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