Mountain cities aim for net-zero emissions as snow accumulation is expected to drop 50% by 2080

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Colorado’s mountain towns represent a fraction of the world’s 1.6 billion people who live in mountain communities, but Aspen recently served as a base camp for a United Nations partnership working to combat the effects of climate change. climatic.
Courtesy graph

Colorado’s mountain towns represent a fraction of the world’s 1.6 billion people who live in mountain communities, but Aspen recently served as a base camp for a United Nations partnership working to combat the effects of climate change. climatic.

Representatives of mountain cities from more than 60 countries gathered in Aspen last month for the sixth global meeting of the United Nations Mountain Partnership. The four day meeting ranged from concerns over Colorado’s snowpack to historic flooding affecting a third of Pakistan’s population.

Many countries at the top have a sense of urgency that is not always appreciated from afar. Pakistan, which produces just 1% of global emissions, is one such place.



“The problem is already there. Pakistan is experiencing flooding over a third of the country, affecting 12 million people,” said Malik Amin Aslam Khan, the country’s climate minister. “We must put a price on the human cost of climate change and ensure that mountain communities, together, are heard to get more resources to help adapt and mitigate.”

The projects discussed at the global meeting show how real the issues are for mountain communities, with several communities committing to adopt and share information on new resolutions made at the meetings.



“While there is a lot of variation over time and space, on average the mountains have been warming at a faster rate than the surrounding lowlands since 1900,” said Carolina Adler, executive director of the Mountain Research Initiative and lead author of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Some climatologists suggest that humans have caused 100% of the warming since 1950. If it weren’t for the pollution from fossil fuels and the destruction of oceans and forests, the planet would be cooling slightly, research shows. Half of all cumulative greenhouse gas emissions since the start of the industrial era have come from only the last 30 yearsin many adult lives today.

As Colorado residents know, the Colorado River is drying up and the water supply of more than 40 million people is at risk.

Snow forecast

A study at AGU earth and Space science log published in the spring predicts that Colorado will likely lose 50% of its snowpack by 2080. Snowpack losses are not just affecting low-lying regions, but the highest peaks in the Colorado River Basin, the study says. .

At the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory near Crested Butte, researchers have been studying the effects of climate change since 1928. The lab’s executive director, Ian Billick, who is also the mayor of Crested Butte, has witnessed firsthand the changes to his high station in gothicat 9,500 feet.

“For every degree of increase in temperature, we see a reduction in water in the Colorado River – decreasing flows with increasing temperatures,” he said. “We know that wildflowers move to higher elevations. Snow changes can happen very quickly. Snow that falls on bare ground melts quickly. In late spring, the snow over time does not stick and stores as before. The transformation happens quickly.

Gothic is also home to vast fields of wildflowers, and every July since 1986, Crested Butte has hosted the wildflower festivalwhich last year held 200 seminars during the 10-day event.

Crested Butte takes action

In August, the Butte Crête City Council voted unanimously update building codes, including measures that require all new buildings from January to be fully electric.

Billick said the changes weren’t difficult or as bold as they seem because they had the support of most people in the building community. Tri-State Energy and Generation has committed to using 70% renewable energy sources to generate electricity by 2030.

“The resilience of the grid can handle it,” said Jeff Delaney of the Gunnison County Electric Association and energy provider Tri-State and Generation.

“Technology has changed dramatically over the past two years, even for things like heat pumps,” he said. “Some decisions have to be made at the federal and state levels, but building codes are handled by local governments.”

As local mountain ecosystems continue to change at an accelerated rate, the risks of wildfires, droughts, floods, and overall changes to Colorado’s landscape continue to increase.

In a recent Yale climate opinion poll, 57% of Colorado residents think global warming is primarily caused by human activity, and 72% support regulating CO2 as a pollutant. A recent study of the Oregon Health Authority found that 59% of young people feel very or extremely concerned about climate change.

aim to lead

Kim Langmaid, mayor of Vail and associate professor of sustainability studies at Colorado Mountain College, said those at the Aspen event feel a sense of responsibility and urgency to lead the fight against the crisis. climatic.

“Our Colorado snowpack has changed dramatically in my lifetime so far,” she said. “The impact on our outdoor sports industry and mountain biodiversity is profound.”

Mayors and county commissioners from Basalt, Aspen, Vail, Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Snowmass participate in a roundtable on the efforts of Colorado’s mountain towns to mitigate the effects of climate change.
Courtesy picture

Mountains cover 25% of the planet, and Langmaid said having a connection to other similar communities has helped her connect with the governor’s office. It brings together a group of Colorado mountain cities and counties to lobby for a portion of the $500 billion available for climate projects under the recent infrastructure bill and the Emission Reduction Act. inflation.

Nels Johnson, senior renewable energy adviser at the Nature Conservancy, said the money is great news and will get stakeholders around a third of what is needed to be on track to net zero d 2050.

“Now the question is whether we can do these projects,” Johnson said.

Vail’s mayor feels the new federal money and relationships forged at the United Nations conference can greatly help Colorado’s high country.

“Mountain communities are able to show how we can implement clean renewable energy projects in our buildings and transportation systems faster than at the state level,” Langmaid said. “We can be best practice leaders with these federal dollars to prove the benefits of these projects.

Arn Menconi, a resident of Carbondale, can be contacted at [email protected].

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