By Mikkela Blanton
Governor Jared Polis’s office recently released the finalized version of the Colorado Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Pollution Reduction Roadmap: a report that outlines the administration’s plans for meeting the GHG reduction targets outlined in HB 1261. These goals include reducing total GHG emissions by 26 percent by 2025, 50 percent by 2030, and 90 percent by 2050 (relative to 2005 emissions levels). While HB 1261 doesn’t explicitly define policies that should be implemented to address climate equity or environmental justice concerns, it does call on rule-makers to include disproportionately impacted communities in designing GHG pollution-mitigation measures, as well as tracking emissions sources that “adversely affect disproportionately impacted communities.” The climate equity framework in the GHG reduction roadmap is a result of these directives.
Environmental injustices have left people of color and low-income persons disproportionately impacted. People in these communities are more likely to be the victims of extreme heat events, to live closer to polluting sites and infrastructure, to be negatively impacted by weather events like hurricanes and extreme heat, and to die of environmental causes. The reality is that those who have contributed most to climate change will be most protected from its impacts. As explained by the World Resources Institute, the theory of climate equity seeks to correct this unjustness by shifting the “burden of responding to the threat of climate change but also sharing the opportunities and benefits climate action presents.”
State of the Policy
The final version of the Colorado GHG Pollution Reduction Roadmap includes a promise that the state is developing a climate equity framework. According to the roadmap, the climate equity framework will be designed to “ensure that Colorado’s response to climate change is guided by principles of racial equity and economic justice.” A brief snapshot of the guiding goals of the climate equity framework include:
- Engage with communities who have been disproportionately impacted by climate change and who have historically been excluded from policy- and decision-making, including Tribes, Indigenous persons, people of color, rural communities, linguistically isolated communities, and low-income persons.
- Identify and evaluate the potential impacts of environmental and other policies on disproportionately impacted communities.
- Create an advisory committee that consists of experts specializing in community engagement, environmental justice, and equity which will inform, in collaboration with inclusive focus groups, how the state implements GHG-reduction policies and rules.
- Recognize that building a more inclusive and just system is a long-term goal that will take time and will require strong partnerships with community leaders and various organizations statewide.
The plan also identifies six key equity principles that must shape Colorado’s climate response: equitable representation, prioritizing benefits, economic impacts, health impacts, access to solutions, and building resilience.
An equity framework must not only exist; it must be specific, measurable, comprehensive, and enforceable. While the roadmap that was released in January 2021 comes closer to meeting these criteria than the draft released in September 2020, some activists and analysts, including Western Resource Advocates’ Senior Climate Policy Analyst Stacy Tellinghuisen, have said that “the equitable part is still missing from the roadmap.” And because the framework is not yet completely built out (it currently occupies only a single page of the entire 207-page report), advocates contend that the very communities the framework is intended to serve were not sufficiently centered or consulted.
In an interview with CO LSEN’s Communications Director, Kayla Zacharias, Colorado State Senator Steve Fenberg acknowledged the equity framework’s shortcomings. “I think it’s a start. I don’t think it’s the end; it needs to be a work in progress,” he explained, adding a recognition of the disproportionate impacts of climate change on communities of color and other underrepresented groups, as well as the importance of centering these voices in the conversation. Referring back to the roadmap’s equity framework, “It’s a good start, but there needs to be a lot more done in the future,” he concluded.
The Bottom Line
The science on the effects of climate change on underrepresented, historically oppressed communities is clear: these communities are the most vulnerable, the most at risk of negative impacts, and the most excluded from decision-making. While Colorado’s GHG reduction roadmap may have taken a meaningful step towards laying the foundation for climate equity work, many throughout Colorado’s communities assert that the state will need to do more if it is to truly make progress on equity needs.
Additional resources and sources of information, some of which were referenced in the writing of this policy brief, include:
- Environmental and Climate Change Justice – NAACP
- Colorado governor releases final plan to reduce emissions by 90%. It’s still too vague, environmentalists say. – The Colorado Sun
- Climate Equity – UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation
- Colorado Greenhouse Gas Pollution Reduction Roadmap Final Report
- Climate Change and Social Inequity – UN
- Disparities in the Impact of Air Pollution – American Lung Association