Colorado State Government Climate Action Plan
On March 18, the staff of the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) made a presentation to the board describing the ongoing work of Colorado state government agencies to develop a new Colorado climate action plan. This apparently was the first such public announcement of the effort to prepare a new state climate plan. Key points from the presentation include:
RMCO points out that the development of a new state government climate action plan, coming on top of the last year’s Colorado greenhouse gas inventory: 2014 update and this year’s vulnerability study, clearly places Colorado foremost among interior western states in actions now being taken to address climate change. RMCO does believe there should be more of an effort to reach out to and engage the public and stakeholders in the development of the new climate action plan, going well beyond the very limited opportunity now planned. Still, RMCO applauds the Hickenlooper administration for the important actions it is taking.
Colorado Climate Change Vulnerability Study
In February, 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 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.
It 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 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.
Report: More Extreme Storms in Michigan
The Rocky Mountain Climate Organization (RMCO) and Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) have released a new report, Extreme Storms in Michigan, which documents an 89 percent increase in the annual frequency of extreme precipitation events--defined as 2 inches or more in a day—across the state over the last 50 years. In southern Michigan, home to most of the state's residents, there has been a whopping 128% increase over the past half century. What Michigan has at stake as extreme storms become more frequent is illustrated by two recent storms--an August 2014 storm that deluged Detroit with up to six inches of rainfall in eight hours, and widespread April 2013 storms of more than two inches of rainfall in a day. Both storms caused major flooding that prompted federal disaster designations and from which people are still recovering. The Detroit flooding caused $1.1 billion in damages.
RMCO comments on state water plan
The Rocky Mountain Climate Organization has submitted comments suggesting how Colorado's draft first-ever state water plan should be revised to better incorporate and address information on the impacts of climate change. A revised draft of the plan is due to be released in December.
Report: Rocky Mountain Forests at Risk
The Union of Concerned Scientists and RMCO released a joint report, Rocky Mountain Forests at Risk, detailing how a changing climate is affecting forests in this region, and how further climate change may lead to far greater impacts than those seen before. For this region, the vulnerability of our forests is one of our greatest threats, and one of the best reasons to reduce the extent to which we humans are disrupting the climate.
Local Resilience Project
The Colorado Climate Network, which RMCO administers, and the Colorado Municipal League now have underway a Local Resilience Project to improve the resilience of local governments and local resources to climate change impacts such as increases in wildfires, floods, and health-threatening heat waves. See our news release here. The project is bringing together representatives of 32 local governments in Colorado, other governmental entities active at the local level (such as local health departments and school districts), and related organizations to identify ways local governments and others can work together in preparing for and addressing climate change impacts, and what they need from the state and federal governments and other sources to do so. The first phase of the project will culminate in a report, expected in April 2015, on those possible actions and needs, and a second phase will focus on bringing about those actions and meeting those needs. For more information, see a summary here at the separate website of the Colorado Climate Network.
Colorado regulation of methane emissions
On February 23, Colorado’s Air Quality Control Commission (AQCC) passed regulations that make Colorado the first state to directly regulate emissions of the potent heat-trapping gas methane from oil and natural gas production facilities. Control of these emissions in Colorado was first recommended by the blue-ribbon panel RMCO convened in our 2005-2007 Colorado Climate Project. RMCO strongly supports the rules, and I testified on behalf of RMCO in support of their adoption by the Commission. Read more here.
New RMCO Report: More Extreme Heat in Fort Collins
RMCO and the City of Fort Collins released today a RMCO report documenting increases in hot days and heat waves in Fort Collins since 1961. Annual rates of 95 degree days and of three straight days of 90 degrees or hotter, for example, have tripled so far this century, compared to 1961-1999 rates. New climate projections prepared for the report also show large increases in these frequencies in the future, especially if future levels of heat-trapping pollution grows at about the current rate. With that medium-high level of future emissions, these 90-degree heat waves could occur five times as often as the historic rate by mid-century, and nine times as often by the end of the century.
For an explanation of the data shown in this figure and more on this report, see here.
Colorado State Government Climate Action
A bill, HB 13-1293, passed last year required the appointment of a person in the Colorado state government to assess climate change issues in the state, and, among other things, to report annually to the House and Senate agriculture and natural resource committees about the state’s efforts on mitigating climate change in accord with the state climate action plan and on climate preparedness. Taryn Finnessey, who has been and continues to be the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s (CWCB) Climate Change Risk Management Specialist, now has been designated as the climate change staff person required by last year’s law. She delivered that report to a joint session of those committees on January 29. The report consists entirely of the PowerPoint presentation she made at that meeting. The Administration is choosing not to publish or post that report, but has provided RMCO with a copy, which we have posted here.
Climate Change Means More Extreme Storms
Beginning on September 12, Colorado's Front Range urban corridor was hit by deadly and devastating flooding brought about by an extreme storm, capping three days of very heavy rainfall. At Boulder's longest-standing weather station, dating back to October 1893 and run by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the one day rainfall total for September 12 was 9.1 inches. (The way records are kept at this station, that is measured from 6:00 p.m. the previous day. In this case, that record-keeping day coincided with the 24 hours with the heaviest rainfall.) That 9.1 inches of rainfall not only obliterated the station's previous daily rainfall record of 4.8 inches, it was not far short of the three highest monthly totals ever, of 9.6, 9.3, and 9.2 inches. And the September 12 rainfall total was nearly half of the weather station's average annual rainfall, which going back to 1893 is 18.9 inches. (See more here.) A few other Colorado spots have been hammered by even more rain, and many others were hit nearly as hard, as reported by a blog posting at the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail, and Snow Network here and shown on a map here.
One manifestation of human alteration of the climate is an increased frequency of extreme storms, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (the parent organization of the National Weather Service) and many scientific reports. The simple fact of physics is that warmer air can hold more water. For us in Colorado, this means there could be more events in which copious amounts of atmospheric moisture are brought here from the Gulf of Mexico and the Gulf of California.
We at RMCO are not asserting a demonstrated individual link between the factors causing this particular storm and human-caused climate change. It takes a lot of statistical work to tease that out. But whether there is such an individual link is, as noted scientist Kevin Trenberth from the National Center for Atmospheric Research (in Boulder) has previously written, actually "is the wrong question. The answer is that all weather events are affected by climate change because the environment in which they occur is warmer and moister than it used to be."
Increases in extreme storms are not just a projection -- although they are projected to get much more frequent with further climate change. More extreme storms are a current reality. The Rocky Mountain Climate Organization has analyzed this reality in the Midwest, where extreme storms and major flooding are especially common. In a report we released last year in partnership with the Natural Resources Defense Council, RMCO documented a half-century trend in the Midwest of extreme storms -- those with three inches or more of precipitation in a day -- doubling. To be precise, the statistical trend was a 103 percent increase over 50 years. As I said when we released our report, "A threshold may already have been crossed, so that major floods in the Midwest perhaps now should no longer be considered purely natural disasters but instead mixed natural/unnatural disasters."
The figure below from our report presents the pattern by decade of the frequency of storms of different sizes in the Midwest from 1961 through 2010. For each size of storm, measured in the amount of precipitation per day, the columns show the changes in the average annual frequency of those storms by decade, from 1961-1970 on the left to 2001-2010 on the right, compared to the average frequency in 1961-1990. Small storms are unchanged, moderate storms increased, large storms increased even more, and extreme storms went up the most. The most recent decade averaged 52 percent more extreme storms than the baseline period. The increase in extreme storms has meant more destructive flooding.
This extreme weather is one of the most serious risks of climate change. This risk, like many others, can be reduced both by controlling emissions and so dialing back climate change, and by preparing for the greater changes we may still face in the future. Read more here.
Report Details Climate Change Impacts on Colorado Water
The Rocky Mountain chapter of Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2), a group of 80 Colorado business leaders who promote policies that are environmentally and economically sustainable, released today a report recommending the strongest goal for water conservation in Colorado yet proposed by any group.
The centerpiece of the report’s recommendations is that the Colorado state government establish a goal of reducing per capita water use by municipal and industrial users by 25 percent by 2025 and by 50 percent by 2050, compared with 2010 levels. This would follow similar actions by the state governments of California and Utah, but the report’s recommendation for a state goal calls for more water conservation in Colorado than any other group has yet proposed. The report details, though, how the recommended reductions are both achievable, based on water savings already achieved in Colorado and other western states, and needed to reliably and sustainably meet Colorado’s future water needs.
The Rocky Mountain Climate Organization provided for the report information and analysis on climate change effects on Colorado’s water resources, which underscore the need for actions of the type recommended by the E2 chapter. “This report pulls together for the first time in one easily readable document all the ways in which climate change is already affecting Colorado’s water supplies and likely will disrupt them more in the future. It lays out the facts, from lower supplies of water to higher demands for water, and how that combination could trigger statewide water restrictions under interstate compacts,” said Stephen Saunders, the president of RMCO. “This is what every Coloradan should know about how climate disruption and interstate compacts would work together to create future water shortages—if we do not act to head off that risk.”
Climate Change and National Parks
RMCO is the national leader in identifying how a disrupted climate threatens national parks and other special places. Our latest report, released in August 2012 in partnership with the Natural Resources Defense Council, documents how an altered climate threatens the seven national seashores on the Atlantic Coast: Cape Cod in Massachusetts, Fire Island in New York, Assateague Island in Maryland and Virginia, Cape Hatteras and Cape Lookout in North Carolina, Cumberland Island in Georgia, and Canaveral in Florida.
The report includes new analyses showing how sea level rise of three feet could inundate much of the seashores. The figure below shows in red how nearly all of the Virginia unit of Assateague Island National Seashore (which overlaps Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge) would be submerged by a higher sea. On the right are the seashore/refuge lands (in beige) and some of the key features that would be lost. This area is visited by two million people a year, whose spending supports 2,000 local jobs.
A Special Region
The American West is special. The West is also changing.
Less snow and water.
Let's keep the West a special place to live, work, and play.
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One of the key ways in which RMCO spreads the word about climate disruption and its impacts is through our carefully researched, richly detailed, and easily readable reports. We now have prepared and released 14, all in partnership with other organizations.
Our reports have been covered by 18 of the 25 largest-circulation newspapers in the nation, as well as on national and local television news shows and on hundreds of other radio, press, and Internet outlets. For more information on the news coverage of our reports, see here.
Colorado Climate Network
RMCO administers the Colorado Climate Network, which supports local government and related climate programs in Colorado and has its own, separate website.
The Network and the Colorado Municipal League now have underway a Local Resilience Project, in which representatives of local governments and other local organizations (such as health departments) are developing a report on what can to done to protect local communities and resources from climate change impacts, such as wildfires, heat waves, and floods.
RMCO was the first nonprofit organization in the nation—and still the only one—to convene a stakeholder panel which developed a statewide agenda for climate action. The panel's recommended goals for reducing emissions of heat-trapping pollution were adopted by Governor Bill Ritter, Jr., as official state policy, and many other recommendations were included in the state's Colorado Climate Action Agenda or enacted by the Colorado General Assembly.
RMCO was the first to call climate change the greatest threat ever to our national parks. The director of the National Park Service later agreed —and quoted the RMCO conclusion in his first congressional testimony after being confirmed for office, and then developed a NPS climate change response strategy.
RMCO was the first organization to consistently label what humans are doing to the climate as climate disruption—not global warming, which is subconsciously misleading, as "warm" in nearly every other context has a positive connotation. The phrase "climate disruption" has since come into broader use by, among others, President Obama's advisor on science and technology.
All photos on our website, unless indicated otherwise, are copyright by and courtesy of John Fielder. One of today's best photographers of the extraordinary landscapes of the Rocky Mountains, he captures what makes this a special region worthy of protection against climate disruption. His photography business also is one of the formal partners in our coalition of local governments, government agencies, businesses, and nonprofit groups that works together to assess and address climate change in the interior West. Other organizations interested in joining us can contact our director of outreach, Suzanne Farver.