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4 reasons why Colorado legislators should strengthen the state’s climate targets

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By Katie Schneer

Photo Credit: Getty Images

This blog was co-authored by Alex DeGolia, Director, U.S. Climate.

Last month, Colorado’s Senate Transportation and Energy Committee approved SB 23-16 — a wide-ranging bill that strengthens Colorado’s commitment to cut statewide climate pollution beyond 2030. It would put new targets in law requiring cuts of at least 65% by 2035, 80% by 2040, 90% by 2045, and strengthen the state’s 2050 target to ensure a 100% cut in pollution by 2050.

This climate bill arrives at a moment of great urgency and opportunity for the state.

As Colorado faces down the consequences of more climate change-fueled impacts, like droughts and wildfires, Coloradans are looking to their leaders to raise the state’s climate ambition and secure a safer, healthier future for their communities. At the same time, Colorado now has more opportunity than ever before to make that ambition a reality, thanks to billions in federal climate and clean energy investments from the Inflation Reduction Act.

Here are 4 reasons why the legislature should pass these ambitious climate targets:

1.  Secure a safer, zero-emission future

While Colorado law already requires long-term pollution reductions of at least 90% by 2050, that could leave up to 10% of climate pollution remaining and continue adding pollution to the atmosphere after 2050 — with no deadline for achieving full decarbonization. SB 23-16 would raise the bar: increasing our goals to eliminate statewide climate pollution by 2050, and importantly targeting more rapid pollution cuts in the interim.

Raising our ambition will help ensure Colorado achieves carbon neutrality by mid-century, which scientific assessments show is a key component to limit global temperature rise to safer levels and stabilize our climate in the long-term.

2.  Curb emissions rapidly and limit cumulative climate pollution

SB 23-16 would elevate Colorado’s climate ambition not only by charting a course to a zero-emission future, but also by ensuring the pace of reductions between 2030 and 2050 is consistent with what climate science tells us is needed — a rapid and sustained reduction pathway toward full decarbonization.

The path we take on our way to full decarbonization matters for the state’s climate future. Reducing emissions of short-lived gases (e.g., methane pollution) plays a critical role in slowing and limiting near-term warming, while reducing the total build-up of long-lived gases (e.g., carbon pollution), which can stay in the atmosphere for centuries, is crucial for limiting the overall amount of warming we will experience. The quicker we curb emissions levels, the more we can slow the rate of warming and limit cumulative climate pollution in the atmosphere — and the better off Coloradans will be now and in the future.

Colorado lawmakers have already demanded a focus on cumulative pollution levels — committing to do our part to limit the worst impacts of climate change in the 2019 Climate Action Plan, and calling for early action to limit the impact of cumulative pollution in the 2021 Environmental Justice Act. In spite of legal requirements and scientific recommendations, state regulators have ignored this metric — declining to pursue regulations that would secure near-term and sustained reductions, and allowing cumulative pollution levels to go unchecked.

With SB 23-16, legislators have an opportunity to chart a steady course — with interim targets every 5 years — and reaffirm the importance of curbing more cumulative climate pollution to protect the state for generations to come.

3.  Accelerate pollution cuts

In 2019, legislators put Colorado at the forefront of climate action among U.S. states — requiring the state to cut climate pollution at least 26% by 2025, 50% by 2030, and 90% by 2050, all below 2005 levels. Nearly four years later, Colorado is falling behind on meeting the near-term targets already established by the legislature — emitting excess greenhouse gases that add to the cumulative build-up of climate pollution in the atmosphere.

EDF’s updated analysis using Rhodium Group’s U.S. Climate Service shows that — accounting for the modeled impact of federal investments and current state policies — Colorado’s insufficient progress on reducing pollution is projected to result in an estimated 261 million metric tons of carbon dioxide-equivalent in excess of a persistent decline toward our legislative goals over the decade. In other words, without a policy framework in place to limit cumulative emissions, the state is likely to overshoot the necessary pathway between 2020 and 2030 by 23%.

Given the state’s shortfall, it’s even more important to elevate our ambition. That’s because emitting excess pollution now means the state is “overspending” from its emissions “budget” for long-lived pollutants, like CO2 — leaving less pollution remaining in the budget for the coming decades. That’s why we need to pick up the pace of reductions moving forward.

4.  Send a clear signal to help leverage federal investments

Strengthening Colorado’s pollution reduction targets will not only mean benefits to our climate, but will help the state take advantage of the estimated $369 billion in federal investments in clean energy, clean transportation, decarbonizing industry, environmental justice, and cutting methane pollution that were included in the federal Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). These investments make clean technology solutions cheaper than ever before, creating an unprecedented opportunity for Colorado to supercharge its efforts to cut climate pollution.

Moreover, enacting policies that set — and meet — ambitious climate targets will drive historic investment, pollution reduction, and job creation in Colorado. As an example of how SB 23-16 paired with investment opportunities in the IRA could benefit Colorado’s economy, consider an investment decision in the latter half of the decade:

  • While most of the funds in the IRA will be deployed by 2030, by which time Colorado must meet its 50% emission reduction target, clean energy investments will have useful lives well beyond that deadline. The addition of an interim target in 2035 may significantly change the calculus for a fleet owner or manufacturer deciding whether to invest in new lower-emission technology, with incentives from the IRA, or simply put resources into maintaining existing equipment.

In other words, ambitious targets — and implementing rules — are essential to send a clear signal to guide the investment and innovation that will help meet our goals. Leaving the path to net-zero emissions uncertain would risk missing out on clean technology development and deployment in Colorado.

As Colorado faces persistent emissions gaps (between projected statewide pollution levels and statutory targets) and worsening climate impacts, the General Assembly can chart a course that reduces pollution to meet the climate crisis. But targets are only one piece of the puzzle: state climate leadership demands setting science-based targets, and then adopting enforceable policies to meet them. Colorado’s progress report this fall revealed that, even with important progress from new pollution laws and rules, the state is projected to miss the near-term reductions required by 2025. And in spite of these pollution gaps, state air regulators declined to take steps to get on track for the legislative targets.

Now is a critical time for the legislature to reaffirm and strengthen Colorado’s climate goals by requiring deep — and steady — emissions cuts over time.

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