White House FACT SHEET: What Climate Change Means for Colorado and the Southwest

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Today, (June 4, 2014) the Obama Administration released the third U.S. National Climate Assessment—the most comprehensive scientific assessment ever generated of climate change and its impacts across every region of America and major sectors of the U.S. economy. The findings in this National Climate Assessment underscore the need for urgent action to combat the threats from climate change, protect American citizens and communities today, and build a sustainable future for our kids and grandkids.

The National Climate Assessment is a key deliverable of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan to cut carbon pollution, prepare America’s communities for climate-change impacts, and lead international efforts to address this global challenge. Importantly, the plan acknowledges that even as we act to reduce the greenhouse-gas pollution that is driving climate change, we must also empower the Nation’s states, communities, businesses, and decision makers with the information they need prepare for climate impacts already underway.

The Obama Administration has already taken a number of steps to deliver on that commitment to states, regions, and communities across America. In the past year alone, these efforts have included: establishing a Task Force of State, Local, and Tribal Leaders on Climate Preparedness and Resilience to advise the Administration on how the Federal Government can respond to the needs of communities nationwide that are dealing with the impacts of climate change; launching a Climate Data Initiative to bring together extensive open government data with strong commitments from the private and philanthropic sectors to develop planning and resilience tools for communities; and establishing seven new “climate hubs” across the country to help farmers and ranchers adapt their operations to a changing climate.

COLORADO is part of the U.S. National Climate Assessment U.S. Southwest Region. The regional phenomena identified by the Assessment may not occur in every state that is part of a particular region. According to the third U.S. National Climate Assessment Highlights report:

The Southwest is “the hottest and driest region in the U.S., where the availability of water has defined its landscapes, history of human settlement, and modern economy. Climate changes pose challenges for an already parched region that is expected to get hotter and, in its southern half, significantly drier.

Increased heat and changes to rain and snowpack will send ripple effects throughout the region, affecting 56 million people – a population expected to increase to 94 million by 2050 – and its critical agriculture sector. Severe and sustained drought will stress water sources, already over-utilized in many areas, forcing increasing competition among farmers, energy producers, urban dwellers, and ecosystems for the region’s most precious resource” (NCA Highlights, p. 78).

Selected Findings and Information from the Third U.S. National Climate Assessment Relevant to COLORADO

Agriculture: “Agriculture, a mainstay of the regional and national economies, faces uncertainty and change. The Southwest produces more than half of the nation’s high-value specialty crops, including certain vegetables, fruits, and nuts. The severity of future impacts will depend upon the complex interaction of pests, water supply, reduced chilling periods, and more rapid changes in the seasonal timing of crop development due to projected warming and extreme events.” (NCA, Ch. 20: Southwest)

Water: “Temperature-driven reductions in snowpack are compounded by dust and soot accumulation on the surface of snowpack. This layer of dust and soot, transported by winds from lowland regions, increases the amount of the sun’s energy absorbed by the snow. This leads to earlier snowmelt and evaporation – both of which have negative implications for water supply, alpine vegetation, and forests. The prospect of more lowland soil drying out from drought and human disturbances (like agriculture and development) makes regional dust a potent future risk to snow and water supplies. “ (NCA, Ch. 20: Southwest)

Health: “Exposure to excessive heat can also aggravate existing human health conditions, like for those who suffer from respiratory or heart disease. Increased temperatures can reduce air quality, because atmospheric chemical reactions proceed faster in warmer conditions. The outcome is that heat waves are often accompanied by increased ground-level ozone, which can cause respiratory distress. Increased temperatures and longer warm seasons will also lead to shifts in the distribution of disease-transmitting mosquitoes.” (NCA, Ch. 20: Southwest)

Ecosystems: “Bark beetles have infested extensive areas of the western United States and Canada, killing stands of temperate and boreal conifer forest across areas greater than any other outbreak in the last 125 years. Climate change has been a major causal factor, with higher temperatures allowing more beetles to survive winter, complete two life cycles in a season rather than one, and to move to higher elevations and latitudes.” (NCA, Ch. 8: Ecosystems)

Tribes: “The Southwest’s 182 federally recognized tribes and communities in its U.S.-Mexico border region share particularly high vulnerabilities to climate changes such as high temperatures, drought, and severe storms. Tribes may face loss of traditional foods, medicines, and water supplies due to declining snowpack, increasing temperatures, and increasing drought. Historic land settlements and high rates of poverty – more than double that of the general U.S. population – constrain tribes’ abilities to respond effectively to climate challenges.” (NCA, Ch. 20: Southwest)

Adaptation: “Communities are vulnerable to changes from a warmer and drier climate that would affect the frequency and intensity of wildfires, shift vegetation and range of forest types, and increase pressures on water supplies. In response, the San Juan Climate Initiative drew together stakeholders, including natural resource managers, community planners, elected officials, industry representatives, resource users, citizens, non-profit organizations, and scientists. By combining resources and capabilities, stakeholders have been able to accomplish much more together than if they had worked independently. For example, local governments developed a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and identify strategies for adaptation, signing the U.S. Mayor’s Climate Protection Agreement in 2009.” (NCA, Ch. 14: Rural Communities)

Examples of Efforts Underway in COLORADO to Address Climate Change

In COLORADO, many efforts are already underway to mitigate and respond to the impacts of climate change, including:

Preparing Communities for the Consequences of Climate Change:

Many important preparedness, resilience, and adaptation efforts are already being led by local, state, and regional entities across the country. Mechanisms being used by local governments to prepare for climate change include: land-use planning; provisions to protect infrastructure and ecosystems; regulations related to the design and construction of buildings, road, and bridges; and preparation for emergency response and recovery. These local adaptation planning and actions are unfolding in municipalities of different sizes, and regional agencies and regional aggregations of governments are also taking actions. And States have also become important actors in efforts related to climate change.

Mayor Karen Weitkunat (Fort Collins, CO) serves on the President’s State, Local and Tribal Leaders Task Force for Climate Preparedness and Resilience. Mayor Weitkunat led the city in becoming a signatory to the Resilient Communities for America campaign to build adaptation and mitigation capabilities in local governments after a series of increased drought, wildfire, and flooding challenges.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Midwest Regional “Climate Hub” is located in Fort Collins, Colorado. The Hub is designed to deliver science-based knowledge, practical information, and program support for farmers, ranchers, landowners, and resource managers to support informed on-the-ground decision-making related to climate change.  

Cutting Carbon Pollution in COLORADO:

In 2012, power plants and major industrial facilities in Colorado emitted more than 50 million metric tons of carbon pollution—that’s equal to the yearly pollution from more than 11 million cars. Through the Climate Action Plan and state initiatives, there are many efforts already underway to mitigate and respond to the impacts of climate change in Colorado, including:

Investing in Clean Energy: Since President Obama took office, the U.S. increased solar-electricity generation by more than ten-fold and tripled electricity production from wind power. In Colorado, renewable energy generation from wind, solar, and geothermal sources increased nearly 140 percent. Since 2009, the Administration has supported tens of thousands of renewable energy projects throughout the country, including 6,245 in Colorado, generating enough energy to power nearly 130,000 homes and helping Colorado meet its own goal of generating 30 percent of its electricity from renewable energy sources by 2020.

Improving Efficiency: Using less energy to power our homes, businesses and vehicles is critical to building a clean and secure energy future. President Obama has made essential investments in research and development for energy efficiency advances, and set new standards to make the things we use every day – from cars to microwaves – more efficient.  President Obama established the toughest fuel economy standards for passenger vehicles in U.S. history. These standards will double the fuel efficiency of our cars and trucks by 2025, saving the average driver more than $8,000 over the lifetime of a 2025 vehicle and cutting carbon pollution.

Since October 2009, the Department of Energy and the Department of Housing and Urban Development have jointly completed energy upgrades nearly two million homes across the country, saving many families more than $400 on their heating and cooling bills in the first year alone.

As part of the President’s Better Buildings Challenge, Poudre School District in Colorado committed to reducing energy intensity 20 percent by 2020 in 3.8 million square feet of schools and buildings. Mesa County Valley School District made a commitment of 30 percent by 2020 for its schools totaling an area of 2.83 million square-feet. Additionally, the cities of Denver and Arvada committed to a 20 percent reduction by 2020 in 6.64 million square feet in Denver and 410,000 square feet in Arvada. The Denver Housing Authority committed to reduce energy intensity 20 percent in 10 years in 2.7 million square feet of affordable housing.

For more information about the third U.S. National Climate Assessment, please visit www.globalchange.gov or contact engagement@usgcrp.gov.

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