A new report shows Boulder found success in a number of its climate initiatives, including its effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
In 2019, the city reported a 21% reduction in emissions since 2005, surpassing its goal for 2020. According to the 2019 report, cleaner electricity and a reduction in electricity consumption as well as reduced emissions from on-road transportation and solid waste all drove the reduction.
Other recent accomplishments include the installation of more than 14 megawatts of residential and commercial solar, participation of 125 residential units and 100 businesses in city-supported efficiency programs and recycling and composting 50% of Boulder’s waste.
In July 2019, the Boulder City Council declared a climate emergency, which led to the creation of the Climate Mobilization Action Plan that directs Boulder’s path forward. The city is continuing its push, hoping to reduce emissions by at least 80% by 2050 and to power the city with 100% renewable energy by 2030.
While Boulder pushes initiatives and provides incentives for participation, success would be a challenge without buy-in from Boulder residents.
“The reality is fighting climate change is everyone’s responsibility,” Boulder’s Chief Sustainability and Resilience Officer Jonathan Koehn said. “Boulder has had a very long history of engaging in climate action at the local level. … The city, its role in all of that, is to design programs and strategies to support that collective action that takes place in the community.”
Boulder cannot solve the global climate crisis on its own, but Koehn is hopeful the city is leading the way and creating a model that can be replicated elsewhere.
Work to be done
While the city successfully reduced greenhouse gas emissions, there is still work to be done. Natural gas usage increased by 11% since 2005, and emissions from the Boulder Municipal Airport increased by 36% since the airport is being used more.
There also is work to be done in terms of equity. According to the Equitable and Just National Climate Platform, systemic racism and injustice have left communities of color and other marginalized communities exposed to the highest levels of toxic pollution and make those communities more vulnerable to the effects of natural disasters that are becoming more prevalent as the Earth warms.
Boulder city staff members insist equity will be a guiding force moving forward. Koehn said community working groups indicated the need for this, considering marginalized communities historically haven’t had a say in advising climate initiatives in Boulder despite being disproportionately impacted by climate change.
Tim Beal, director of Sustainable Communities with Boulder Housing Partners, said he’s already working to impact equity by providing alternative energy for the housing authority’s affordable housing projects. A 3.8-acre solar garden is under construction in North Boulder next to the Gateway Park Fun Center. The $1.2 million project that serves solely low-income households is the first of its kind in Boulder. Beal hopes it will “level the playing ground.”
Boulder Housing Partners estimates the solar garden will provide a $647,237 energy cost savings over 20 years that will be used to lower operating expenses and provide utility savings for residents. The housing authority partnered with GRID Alternatives Colorado, a Denver-based company that installs solar electric systems for income-qualified households and affordable housing providers.
Despite the progress made in 2019, it’s possible some of the work could plateau due to the extenuating circumstances of 2020.
“We’re in kind of an anomaly of a year. It’s going to be hard to look at 2020 as any basis of trends,” Boulder sustainability analyst Lauren Tremblay said.
Still, city staff said there are lessons to be learned.
“We don’t know what the numbers, in terms of emissions, are going to look like 2020. Regardless of what those numbers turn out to be, there are lessons that we have learned from this pandemic that will be shaping our climate action moving forward,” city spokesperson Emily Sandoval said.