The climate crisis is happening here and now and Boulder County residents are experiencing its impacts in the form of high heat days, extreme weather, drought, poor air quality, and increasingly intense wildfires. This is a critical moment. As a global leader in climate action, Boulder County is committed to the radical transformation needed to meet this challenge. Through programs and policies that foster innovation, coalition-building, and equitable outcomes, Boulder County is cutting emissions, removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and supporting systemic change to fight the climate crisis. Read on to learn how.
Climate Action in Boulder County
Where do our emissions come from?
According to our most recent greenhouse gas (GHG) emission inventory completed in 2016, commercial and residential building energy use accounts for 60% of emissions and transportation accounts for 30% of emissions countywide. Emissions from industrial processes, oil wells, solid waste, and agriculture account for the remaining 9% of emissions.
The county is currently undertaking a scope 3 consumptions-based emissions inventory to account for the full scope of emissions in Boulder County, including emissions associated with the creation and purchase of goods and food.
Boulder County adopted bold goals to reduce community GHG emissions 45% below 2005 levels by 2030 and 90% below 2005 levels by 2050. While reaching these goals will be a significant challenge, Boulder County is committed to transitioning to a low-carbon future and a clean energy economy. However, in order to limit global warming to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels, we must reduce GHG emissions 45% by 2030 and achieve net zero by 2050. Using these updated science-based targets, the county is working on a new carbon neutrality goal that will be implemented in late summer 2022.
Carbon Dioxide Removal
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), eliminating our reliance on fossil fuels is essential, but is also no longer sufficient, to stem the worst effects of climate change. Even if every high-impact strategy is deployed today, the IPCC confirms that we have saturated the atmosphere with far too much carbon, which hangs in our atmosphere for many lifetimes. Because of this reality, cutting GHG emissions is not enough. We must also remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Boulder County is committed to removing carbon dioxide through programs and funding opportunities that support nature-based and engineered carbon removal solutions.
Recent Climate Initiatives
Boulder County’s climate initiatives are internationally recognized, leading-edge programs that cut GHG emissions, remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and help residents adapt and thrive in the face of climate change impacts. These initiatives provide residents, businesses, food producers, and innovators with tools and resources to be part of the solution to the climate crisis. They also serve as scaleable blueprints that can be adopted by other local governments and state and federal entities.
Boulder County has partnered with the city of Flagstaff, Arizona to form a coalition of local governments that will pool resources to fund nature-based and engineered carbon dioxide removal projects in the Four Corners region. The 4 Corners Carbon Removal Coalition’s first project will seek proposals that integrate carbon removed from GHG emissions into local concrete production. Read more in Grist and The Hill.
Boulder County’s air quality monitors collect samples for nitrogen oxides, methane, and a suite of volatile organic compounds associated with oil and gas operations. Sample results are posted publicly in near-real time and are used to support policies for more stringent emission controls.
Boulder County, San Miguel County, and the City of Boulder filed a lawsuit against two oil companies with significant responsibility for climate change. The communities are demanding that Suncor and ExxonMobil pay their fair share of the costs associated with climate change impacts so that the costs do not fall disproportionally on taxpayers. Read more about this lawsuit in The Guardian.
In 2019, the Board of Boulder County Commissioners proclaimed a climate emergency to support emergency mobilization and just transition efforts that reverse global warming and implement adaptation and resilience strategies in preparation for intensifying climate impacts.
The Fund supports local projects focused on carbon dioxide removal and landscape resilience and restoration.
Climate Risks Mapping
Boulder County is building a detailed map of the county that visualizes the risks related to climate impacts including high heat, poor air quality, wildfire, flooding, and drought alongside demographic information including household income, language, race, age, and reliance on public transportation. The map will help local government stakeholders prioritize climate programming resources to protect the most vulnerable communities from climate related impacts.
Boulder County is a founding member of CC4CA, a coalition of 40 local governments advocating for state and federal policies that protect Colorado’s climate. During the 2021 state legislative session, CC4CA helped win support for important climate policy legislation, including: a major environmental justice bill establishing state capacity to prioritize disproportionately impacted communities in state policy and confirm GHG targets for several sectors; a landmark transportation funding measure that provides significant new funding for vehicle electrification and multi-modal transportation options; a new grant program to support local government investments in climate resilience; a statewide ban on many types of single use plastics; and enactment of a new requirement for electric utilities to support investments in beneficial electrification measures.
Indoor marijuana cultivation has a significant climate impact due to energy intensive lighting and cooling systems. Boulder County requires commercial cannabis cultivators to either offset their electricity use with local renewable energy or pay an energy surcharge. Fees collected from the surcharge are placed into the EIOF, which is used to support carbon reduction initiatives. The EIOF invests in Xcel Energy’s Valmont Generation Station, which helps makes solar energy accessible to Boulder County families with incomes below 185% of the federal poverty threshold. The county EIOF investment into this community solar garden helps 311 households access renewable energy and save money on utility bills.
The EnergySmart program helps Boulder County residents make their homes and businesses more energy efficient, comfortable, and affordable. EnergySmart has served over 19,510 homes and spurred investment of more than $40.8M in the local economy.
Environmental Sustainability Grants provide funding for Boulder County municipalities and towns to undertake environmental sustainability initiatives. The program has funded over $1.1M in sustainability projects including water conservation, clean energy incentives, and efforts to increase solar and electric vehicle adoption.
This EPA-supported pilot program assists food and beverage manufacturers in their transition to pollution-reduced and sustainable packaging. The county awarded $40,000 in incentives to five businesses with the potential to reduce the pollution impacts of 2.1 million product units manufactured annually.
Partners for a Clean Environment is Boulder County’s one-stop-shop for business sustainability. PACE provides free expert advisor services, financial incentives, and a certification program to help businesses measure and reduce their climate impacts. PACE’s Small Business Equity Program helps small businesses save energy and money by replacing outdated restaurant/grocery equipment and lighting. PACE has served over 3,890 businesses and has saved over $2.6 million in business energy costs. The EPA recognized PACE as an ENERGY STAR Day leader for its Small Business Equity Program.
Rebuilding Better connects builders and Marshall Fire-impacted residents to resources for planning, designing, and constructing high-performance homes that are cleaner, more comfortable, and more resilient to climate change impacts.
This partnership connects restaurants and food businesses with food producers to fund regenerative practices that improve soil health and sequester carbon on farms and ranches across the Front Range. With support from the USDA’s Office of Urban Agriculture and Innovative Production, Boulder County launched Restore Colorado in partnership with Mad Agriculture and James Beard-award winning organization Zero Foodprint. Participating businesses and restaurants add an opt-out 1% fee to their bills to fund Restore Colorado grants that support regenerative farming projects such as compost application and cover crop planting. Read more about this program at Colorado Public Radio, Food Tank, US News & World Report, and Westword.
Solar Workforce Development
Boulder County’s Solar Workforce Development program sponsors the training of underemployed residents in solar installation and maintenance. In 2020, Solar Training Academy participants received hands-on solar skills by building a 100 kW community solar system benefitting the residents of Ponderosa Mobile Home Park in North Boulder.
The Fund accelerates and launches sustainability projects that benefit food and agriculture in Boulder County. These projects increase soil nutrient levels, foster healthy ecosystems, sequester carbon, and help crops become more resistant to climate change. 2022 recipients are using their grants to develop educational programs, support local food production, provide food and safety equipment for frontline farm workers, implement regenerative practices, preserve heirloom grain seeds, and create pollinator habitats. Read more about the 2022, 2021, and 2020 grant recipients.
Boulder County is committed to accelerating the adoption of electric vehicles, supporting the installation of electric vehicles charging stations at locations across the county, and supporting the electrification of buses, carshare, and ride-share services.
Read more about the Boulder County’s climate action strategy in the 2018 Environmental Sustainability Plan. Boulder County will release an updated Environmental Sustainability Plan in August 2022.
Join Together for Climate Action
Luckily there are many ways to be a part of the solution. To get started making a difference, choose from the list below and take action today!
Reduce Your Carbon-Based Travel
One-third of all our GHG emissions countywide come from the transportation sector. Consider walking, biking, or using public transportation to get around. Combining trips and carpooling can also save time. If you have to purchase a vehicle, consider an electric vehicle.
Minimize Your Waste
Did you know that food waste is the number one material in the landfill? America wastes 40% of its food, wastes huge amounts of water, and costs billions of dollars each year. Do your part by planning meals, storing food correctly, minimizing food waste, and composting whenever possible. Make a larger impact by considering all the materials you purchase – reduce, reuse, recycle.
Eat a More Plant-Based Diet
The meat industry is one of the largest contributors to climate change worldwide. Livestock animals can produce large amounts of methane. Eat less meat and a more plant-based diet to significantly reduce your environmental impact.
Become Fossil Fuel Free
Rooftop solar or a subscription to a solar garden is a great way to power your home with clean energy. Solar financing options are available from the Clean Energy Credit Union or through local solar companies. Make sure your home is well insulated and buy energy and water efficient appliances as well.