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BOULDER, CO – JUNE 26, 2019: Robert Newton, with Blue Star Recycling, pulls computer equipment from a vehicle to be recycled at Eco Cycle on Thursday in Boulder. (Photo by Jeremy Papasso/Staff Photographer)
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Boulder staff this week will propose to City Council a more urgent response to climate change.

Staff is proposing a 2030 Climate Mobilization Action Plan, a 10-year plan to address climate change that goes further than the city’s 2016 climate commitment. With council’s go-ahead, they’ll seek community feedback and plan to bring a strategy back to council next spring.

“The plans that we developed based on the science that was the best we had in 2014 are now out of date, and our actions are insufficient,” said Brett KenCairn, senior sustainability and resilience policy adviser. “If we’re serious about trying to create a stable, livable world, we have to dramatically expand both the scale and the scope of our actions.”

A special report by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released last October served as a wake-up call, he said, and he can’t overstate its significance.

“If you were to sum it up in just a few words, they would be: We’re not even close,” KenCairn.

In the past, the framing of policymakers has been to discuss how to keep the global average temperature rise below 1.5 degrees Celsius. Here, staff finds it more useful to talk about extremes.

“There are a whole bunch of problems with the framing of that,” KenCairn said. “It’s not average temperatures that get you. It’s actually extremes.”

Up to 2000, Boulder had an average of four to five days over 95 degrees a year. Now, less than 20 years later, that number has doubled to eight. By the mid-century it could be 30 to 45.

Staff are proposing drafting a plan that will not only chart a course to aggressively reduce emissions but also remove carbon from the atmosphere and brace for climate change effects already underway.

“We had this notion that it was all about individual choices, and that we were trying to create programs that would support people to make individual choices, and that the better we could set it up so that it was a great choice then the more would do that,” KenCairn said. “… What we now realize is that we have to move from incremental change to systemic change.”

In a memo to city council, staff notes lessons learned from Boulder’s current strategies, including that the rebate amounts the city offers will not motivate someone to do work they wouldn’t have done otherwise and recycling and composting programs are not enough to address consumption.

Systemic change, the memo notes, means that low emissions and low impact actions are the only or the easiest choice.

The changes required to address climate change, just in Boulder, would likely be on the order of billions of dollars, and staff will explore mechanisms to share those costs and spread them out across people who will benefit now and in the future – such as making upgrades to a house part of the taxable property of the house.

All the strategies to be included in the new plan have not been finalized yet. Those will be drafted in the coming months, pending council approval.

“This session is not to say to council, ‘Here is the new strategy,’” KenCairn said. “It’s more to say, ‘Here is the new context. Here’s the science that tells us where we’re at. Here’s what we’ve learned in the past 10 years.’”

The city will also look outside its boundaries in hopes of forming a consortium with other regional entities. Already, Boulder County, the University of Colorado Boulder’s’ environmental design school and Naropa University, among others, have signed a letter of intent to collaborate in the development of a Boulder Valley Climate Mobilization Action Plan. Boulder hopes to bring other municipalities, state agencies, nonprofits and businesses on board, too.

“It has to be more than just the city and a few nonprofits,” KenCairn said.

Staff is scheduled to make a presentation on the matter at city council’s study session Tuesday.

If You Go:

What: Boulder City Council study session

When: 6 p.m. Tuesday

Where: Boulder Municipal Building 1777 Broadway, Boulder.

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