The City and County of Denver today renewed its commitment to reducing emissions, while planning for the social, economic and environmental impacts of a warming planet, by releasing the city’s first Climate Adaptation Plan.
When Denver released its Climate Action Plan in 2007, the city became an environmental leader as one of the first major metropolitan cities to set goals for reducing climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions.
Created as part of a two-year long, multi-agency effort led by Denver’s Department of Environmental Health, the 90-page plan identifies short, medium and long term strategies and opportunities to help Denver adapt to climate change. It is being released on the one year anniversary of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan to address this global challenge.
“While cities across the globe are all experiencing the impacts of climate change, every city is unique. We have a responsibility to protect our city and our way of life,” says Denver Mayor Michael Hancock. “It is our goal that this adaptation plan will benefit current and future Denver residents by ensuring that Denver is resilient in the face of climate change.”
“We're proud to be one of the first cities to release a comprehensive climate adaptation plan. While we're certainly working hard to prevent climate change, it's clear that we must also prepare for changes that are already upon us, in order to protect our quality of life,” says Doug Linkhart, Executive Director of the Department of Environmental Health.
Using Front Range climate change projections, the city’s interagency Climate Resilience Committee identified the following three key impacts on Denver:
- Increase in temperature and urban heat island effect –Similar to other urban cities, Denver experiences higher temperatures than the surrounding countryside due to heat radiating off pavement and asphalt. Higher temperatures due to climate change exacerbate this problem and can result in increased energy consumption, human health issues and a change in water quality in the city’s rivers and streams.
- Increase in extreme weather events – According to a study by the Natural Resource Defense Council, Denver can expect an increase in the number of annual extreme heat days from a historical average of nine days to 88 by mid-century. This increase in extreme weather can have adverse effects on the environment and health.
- Reduced snowpack and earlier snowmelt – According to Denver Water, the increase in temperatures can cause snowpack to melt earlier. Since stream flows shift earlier in the spring, this has the potential to reduce water availability to fill reservoirs needed for high-use summer months.
Using the impacts above, city agencies and partners assessed vulnerabilities, then developed and prioritized short, medium, and long-term climate adaptation strategies that involve buildings and energy, health and human services, land use and transportation, urban natural resources, water consumption, and food and agriculture. This included identifying efforts already underway to ensure Denver’s short and long term climate change resiliency.
A few key examples include:
- Expand business and residential energy efficiency programs – Programs like the Denver Energy Challenge and Certifiably Green Denver have helped more than 8,900 businesses and residences improve the comfort of their buildings and save energy. Expanding energy efficiency will help the city maintain a more durable energy grid, one that can function better in the face of new energy demands arising from climate change.
- Updated building codes – Denver requires a minimum of Gold level LEED certification of major renovations or new construction of city facilities. Denver is also on track to adopt the 2015 International Building Code, which results in up-to-date building and energy efficiency standards for all new construction in Denver. Meeting these standards will help buildings be more resilient in the face of climate change challenges.
- Ensuring efficient water use and protect water quality – Denver Parks and Recreation uses more than 2.2 billion gallons of recycled water in parks and common areas annually. The city will continue to maximize water efficiency in city buildings, promote low water landscaping (xeriscape) wherever possible and expand the use of green infrastructure to protect water quality in the face of more extreme weather.
- Expand commitment to renewable energy – Denver has installed 11.4 megawatts of solar power, the equivalent of powering more than 11,000 homes. Denver will expand our renewable energy portfolio that helped Denver become the first certified Solar Friendly Community in Colorado.
- Maintaining and expanding the urban tree canopy – Trees help to offset urban heat island effects and reduce summertime peak cooling costs. Proper tree selection and strategic planting helps to minimize water use and the energy needed to cool buildings.
- Health and human services – Preparing for increased frequency of extreme heat events (cooling centers), protect air quality in the face of hotter summers (policy), develop vector control plan to address current and emerging vector-borne diseases (surveillance).
- Implementing a citywide Environmental Management System (EMS) –Denver was the first to achieve the internationally recognized sustainable ISO 14001 Certification across all city agencies. The EMS will be used as a principal tool to implement and track progress on the city’s adaptation strategies.
The Climate Adaptation Plan release aligns with recent local and national climate efforts, including Mayor Hancock joining with Fort Collins Mayor Karen Weitkunat, Summit County Commissioner Dan Gibbs and Colorado Municipal League Executive Director Sam Mamet in inviting cities to participate in Colorado Climate Network and the Colorado Municipal League Local Resilience Project.
For more information or to view Denver’s Climate Adaptation Plan, visit www.denvergov.org/DEQ. To learn more about the Local Resilience Project, visit www.coclimatenetwork.org.
Denver’s Department of Environmental Health (DEH) is dedicated to advancing Denver’s environmental and public health goals. The divisions of DEH are: Animal Care and Control, Community Health, Environmental Quality, Office of the Medical Examiner, and Public Health Inspections.
For more information about Environmental Health visit www.denvergov.org/DEH. Follow us on Twitter.com/DenEnviroHealth.