In the journey to confront climate change, speed is key, and delay is a killer. Colorado is off to a fast start cleaning up our economy, but we must avoid costly detours along the way.
A new legislative proposal could help do just that — if it becomes law.
Colorado is an unquestioned climate leader in the United States. We set some of America’s most ambitious emissions reduction goals in 2019, aiming for 90% fewer greenhouse-gas emissions by 2050.
But setting goals is just the first step, and implementing smart policy to deploy clean energy and tackle hard-to-clean sectors like transportation and industry is where climate ambition becomes climate action.
Last May, Boulder-based RMI and nonpartisan think tank Energy Innovation analyzed the state’s trajectory toward our emissions reduction goals, finding Colorado was only on track to cut emissions 18% by 2050. Our modeling showed the state could hit that target by passing new legislation and implementing new administrative actions to cut car and truck tailpipe pollution, prevent oil- and gas-well methane leaks, reduce industrial pollution, and encourage utility reforms.
In November, we re-ran that modeling. We found that, thanks to leadership by our state legislators and Gov. Jared Polis, new laws passed in 2021 put Colorado much closer to its 2030 emissions reduction goal.
But hitting our climate targets ultimately depends on wonky but important state regulatory processes to implement the climate laws passed last year.
Unfortunately, several of those rulemaking sessions, which were supposed to happen this year, have been tabled until 2023, meaning our state’s climate goals could again start slipping out of reach.
Fortunately, new legislation proposed by Senator Chris Hansen and Representative Alex Valdez would help get us back on track by creating interim benchmarks to prevent Colorado from falling too far behind on its goals. Senate Bill 22-138 would add new requirements that emissions be reduced 40% from 2005 levels by 2028 and 75% by 2040, adding additional stringency to existing milestones of 26% by 2025 and 50% by 2030, helping keep us on a pathway to hit the 90% emissions reduction mark by 2050.
SB 22-138 also would add requirements for insurance agencies, create incentives to electrify small off-road equipment, advance carbon sequestration, and add requirements that Colorado reduce industrial pollution, among other important emissions reduction measures.
This is exactly the type of action needed to keep Colorado moving forward. Steady progress is necessary and these goals will continue pushing public- and private-sector innovation to help meet our climate goals. We know exactly where to cut those emissions and have the clean technologies today to get started.
Meeting these targets on time is critical to help prevent warming beyond the 1.5 degrees Celsius mark that the International Panel on Climate Change says is necessary to avoid dangerous impacts. We’re already experiencing those impacts here in Colorado through worsening heatwaves, droughts, and wildfires — all of which are becoming more frequent and extreme.
Doing so also would strengthen our economy and create new jobs. That RMI-Energy Innovation modeling showed accelerating Colorado’s emissions reductions would generate more than 20,000 new jobs and up to $7.5 billion in new economic activity per year by 2050.
Inaction risks the opposite economic effect. Every new fossil fuel-powered vehicle or appliance we buy lasts 10-15 years, and every new fossil-fueled building or factory we build lasts decades, locking in more emissions precisely when we must be reducing them.
Confronting climate change becomes more difficult and expensive the longer we delay action because it requires converting a larger portion of our economy to clean energy every year we wait. In other words, taking action now is cheaper and safer, with a bigger economic payoff, than waiting years to start.
Many politicians around the world have set long-term goals but are ignoring the critical interim years of action, when it’s easy to delay action that makes the ultimate transition easier. Thanks to Gov. Polis and our state legislators, we’re on the way to a safe climate future, but we can’t take our foot off the pedal now.
Now’s the time for Colorado to get moving on rulemakings and investments that clean up our economy. Delaying implementation only slows our transition and makes it harder to meet our interim targets. Sen.Hansen and Rep. Valdez’ legislation is an important tool to help us avoid a traffic jam of new rules that must be passed in the eleventh hour to meet our deadlines.
State policymakers should support this, and other climate action, on the road to a safe climate and prosperous future.
Silvio Marcacci, of Denver, is communications director for Energy Innovation.
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