Environment: Denver roundtable shows how climate action will benefit Colorado

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Global temperatures have reached record levels the past few months, with 2015 on track to be warmest year ever.

Heat waves, increased air pollution seen as key climate risks for Colorado

Staff Report

FRISCO — A new EPA report suggests that failing to curb greenhouse gas emissions could cause up to 57,000 additional deaths across the U.S. in coming decades due to poor air quality.

The study was released as part of the run-up to the finalization of the controversial Clean Power Plan, which aims to cut greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. The EPA is set to finalize the plan later this summer.

The report’s findings were part of the discussion at a Denver roundtable convened by Environment Colorado this week, as EPA experts joined with state leaders and health experts to bring the message home to Colorado.

“Climate change is already having an impact on human health and is challenging EPA’s ability to fulfill its mission,” said EPA regional climate change coordination Laura Ferris. “We know that taking action to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions will significantly benefit Americans by reducing health impacts, saving lives and avoiding more costly damages across the economy.”

Global warming will fuel more extreme weather events in Denver and the rest of Colorado, and warmer temperatures will also worsen air quality and increase the risk of deaths from heat waves. By 2050, Denver’s summer temperatures could soar into the 100s more often than not, according to the city’s climate adaptation plan.

“Colorado needs global warming solutions like the Clean Power Plan to help us breathe easier,” said Environment Colorado’s Travis Madsen. “We applaud President Obama and the EPA for their leadership on the Clean Power Plan and look forward to continuing the work to reduce global warming pollution to levels science says are healthy and safe for Coloradans.”

“Coloradans are entrepreneurial, inventive, and well-positioned to safeguard their communities by meeting their share of the Clean Power Plan’s pollution reduction goals,” said Colorado Rep. Dominick Moreno, assistant majority leader in the House. “I look forward to seeing Colorado take the lead, for the sake of our health and the natural wonder this state has to offer.”

The University of Denver roundtable amplified statements from top Obama administration officials.

“Will the United States benefit from climate action? Absolutely. This report shows us how costly inaction will be to Americans’ health, our environment and our society. But more importantly, it helps us understand the magnitude of benefits to a number of sectors of the U.S. with global climate action,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy.

“We can save tens of thousands of American lives, and hundreds of billions of dollars, annually in the United States by the end of this century, but the sooner we act, the better off America and future generations of Americans will be,” McCarthy said.

The report examines how the impacts and damages of climate change across a number of sectors in the United States can be avoided with global action. The findings include:

  • Global action on climate change reduces the frequency of extreme weather events and associated impacts. For example, by 2100 global action on climate change is projected to avoid an estimated 12,000 deaths annually associated with extreme temperatures in 49 U.S. cities, compared to a future with no reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. This is more than a 90 percent reduction from what we would expect with no action.
  • Global action now leads to greater benefits over time. The decisions we make today will have long-term effects, and future generations will either benefit from, or be burdened by, our current actions. Compared to a future with unchecked climate change, climate action is projected to avoid approximately 13,000 deaths in 2050 and 57,000 deaths annually in 2100 from poor air quality. Delaying action on emissions reductions will likely reduce these and other benefits.
  • Global action on climate change avoids costly damages in the United States. For nearly all of the 20 sectors studied, global action on climate change significantly reduces the economic damages of climate change. For example, without climate action, we estimated up to $10 billion in increased road maintenance costs each year by the end of the century. With action, we can avoid up to $7 billion of these damages.
  • Climate change impacts are not equally distributed. Some regions of the United States are more vulnerable than others and will bear greater impacts. For example, without action on climate change, California is projected to face increasing risk of drought, the Rocky Mountain region will see significant increases in wildfires, and the mid-Atlantic and Southeast are projected to experience infrastructure damage from extreme temperatures, heavy rainfall, sea level rise, and storm surge.
  • Adaptation can reduce damages and costs. For some sectors, adaptation can substantially reduce the impacts of climate change. For example, in a future without greenhouse gas reductions, estimated damages from sea-level rise and storm surge to coastal property in the lower 48 states are $5.0 trillion dollars through 2100. With adaptation along the coast, the estimated damages and adaptation costs are reduced to $810 billion.
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