High Country Conservation Center introduces new community Climate Action Plan

Jess Hoover of the High Country Conservation Center gives a presentation on the new Climate Action Plan to a crowded room inside the Frisco Adventure Park Day Lodge on Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2018.
Sawyer D’Argonne / Summit Daily News

The effects of climate change on a community are often subtle and difficult to quantify over short periods of time. But as temperatures continue to rise, the potential impacts on the environment, economy and daily lives of residents could be huge.

We know what Summit County looks like now, but what will it look like in the year 2050?

That’s the question that ultimately spurred the High Country Conservation Center into action. Dozens of Summit County residents packed into the Frisco Adventure Park Day Lodge on Wednesday night as HC3 provided the community with a first glimpse at a new climate action plan, which is meant to provide a framework for major reductions to the county’s greenhouse gas emissions.

“We wanted to start addressing climate change in our community,” said Jess Hoover, who is helping to create the plan for HC3. “When we saw Eagle County and Aspen starting to do climate action plans, that’s something we knew we could do as well. We started researching what other communities included to find out what we’d want something like this to look like in Summit County.”

The plan comes as the result of months of stakeholder meetings with community partners, including the county, Frisco, Breckenridge, Dillon, Silverthorne, Blue River, Xcel Energy, Colorado Mountain College, the Summit School District and the county’s ski resorts. Months ago HC3 brought in a third-party consulting firm, Lotus Engineering & Sustainability, to complete a greenhouse gas inventory report and to facilitate the planning process.

The report provided an overview of Summit County’s emissions and gave insight into which areas were the biggest contributors. According to the report, the county produced more than 842,500 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2017. The largest-producing sectors were commercial and industrial stationary energy (35 percent), transportation (33 percent) and residential stationary energy (30 percent).

Given the data, partners on the project began a series of meetings to create plans for improvements in each sector, with an aspirational goal of reducing greenhouse emissions by 80 percent by 2050. Though Hoover admits that even with widespread community buy-in on new climate action initiatives, a 30-40 percent reduction may be more realistic, but not enough.

“We landed on a goal of decreasing emissions 80 percent by 2050, the reduction necessary to limit warming to two degrees Celsius,” said Hoover. “That’s the number agreed upon in the Paris Agreement. Our strategies will get us between 30 and 40 percent. But we want to set a more aspirational goal, and we felt that if we’re not being aspirational, we’re not doing enough to solve the problem. We don’t know how to get the whole way there. But we’re hoping as we move forward in time there will be new technologies that will move the needle forward from what we know we can do now.”

Regardless of aspirations, a 30 to 40 percent reduction in greenhouse emissions could go a long way in staving off the effects of climate change. To that end, HC3 published a number of strategies to get the ball moving.

For building energy use, which comprises more than 65 percent of the county’s energy use with residential and commercial combined, strategies include the expansion of existing energy efficiency programs to target more homes and businesses, requiring mandatory energy reporting for buildings, adopting and enforcing updated International Energy Conservation Codes for buildings, and promoting energy efficiency and renewable energy for school and government buildings among others.

In regards to transportation, the plan calls for the adoption of more electric vehicles through expanded infrastructure and incentives, switching government fleets to electric vehicles within the replacement cycle, promoting clean fuels and developing a county bicycle and walking master plan.

The plan will also provide strategies for lesser-contributing sectors including waste and forests, as well as providing renewable energy strategies. According to the report researched by Lotus, Summit County’s emissions will grow from 842,569 metric tons of CO2 equivalent to more than 927,000 in 2050 if no action is taken. Utilizing the strategies outlined in the climate action plan, that number could realistically be dropped to just over 550,000, according to the report.

The action plan isn’t yet completely finished, and will be officially rolled out in early 2019 along with a marketing campaign from HC3 to help inform the community of the strategies. Though, even with support from government entities and influential businesses around the county, the planned goals will require more widespread support from individual community members to accomplish. But some Summit residents already seem eager to make a difference.

“I’m concerned about global warming and the effects of it here in Summit County, Colorado and everywhere around the United States,” said Sharon Crawford of Frisco. “I wanted to get informed and up-to-date on what I can do as an individual. I try to recycle everything I can, but I’m sure there’s more I can do.”

“I just think we need more advertising, education and public awareness,” added Derek Dresler, another resident. “I think that a lot of people out here are super interested in it, but they just don’t have a resource to know where to get involved.”

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