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Climate Action

Imagining what Denver would look like if the average temperature were 2 – 3 degrees higher is not something people spend a lot of time doing. However, Denver’s Environmental Quality Division has been studying these potential impacts and placed a great emphasis on finding ways to reduce heat trapping greenhouse gases. 

With gridlock on climate action at the federal level, and inconsistent action amongst the states, Denver and many other U.S. cities are leading by example to showcase pragmatic and innovative solutions to combat and adapt to global climate change.

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Even though developing nations grab headlines for their emissions of greenhouse gases, in the U.S. we represent the highest per capita emissions. In our 2007 Climate Action Plan, Denver set out to reduce our per capita greenhouse gas emissions 10% by 2012, which equated to a 3% overall reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. 

Each year, Denver updates our greenhouse gas inventory to quantify emissions from different sectors (building energy use, transportation, etc.). This information helps Denver track the effectiveness of existing programs as well as to identify future opportunities.

In the fall of 2014, Denver will release an updated Climate Action Plan intended to document how we will achieve our 2020 goal of reducing community-wide greenhouse gas emissions to at or below 1990 levels (11.8 million metric tons of CO2e). The plan will also set longer-term goals and the strategies that will be needed to achieve them.

Denver’s greenhouse gas emission trends are located here. Denver beat its 2012 goal to reduce emissions by 10 percent per capita, with an overall 4 percent reduction. This reduction came despite continued population growth and increases in commercial and residential building spaces, all of which require energy to light, heat and cool. Next up is the 2020 goal to be at or below 1990 emissions (11.8M metric tons). 

Denver classifies emissions by sectors to help inform agencies and decisions makers on policy and program impact. Those sectors and example programs are listed below.

  • Waste and Consumption: While only a small fraction of the community wide greenhouse gas emissions, solid waste and consumption are at the heart of what drives much of our global emissions. Denver Public Works Solid Waste Management is driving most of the programs aimed at creating less waste, diverting waste into recyclable or reusable content, or composting food waste.
  • Transportation: Denver’s programs in the transportation sector, such as the Strategic Transportation Plan (STP), involve reducing vehicle miles traveled on the road by promoting public transportation, bicycles, and walking as primary modes of transportation, and promoting mixed-use, transportation-oriented development. Fewer vehicle miles traveled also have the benefit of reducing other types of air pollution.
  • Food: On average, the food we eat travels 1500 miles before it makes it to our table. By promoting local agriculture, Denver can reduce the carbon footprint of the foods we eat. Within the City and County of Denver, there are many farmers markets that provide local food options, as well as locally grown food available in many grocery stores throughout the City.
  • Urban Natural Resources: Denver currently has an extensive urban forest that was voted a top ten best U.S. City for Urban Forests by the non-profit American Forests. The Arbor Day Foundation notes that an acre of forest absorbs six tons of carbon dioxide and releases four tons of oxygen meeting the needs of 18 people, so maintaining and enhancing Denver’s urban tee canopy will continue to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Materials: Denver has explored and utilized alternative lower emitting materials such as “green” concrete that utilizes recycled fly ash rather than raw Portland cement. Denver’s purchasing department also utilizes environmentally preferred purchasing in an effort to identify and procure recycled or reusable materials.

There are a wide variety of actions individuals can take to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. A good way to start is to visit websites such as Global Footprint Network or EPA Household Calculator to determine your personal carbon footprint. More often than not, simple steps are available that will make big impacts. A few examples of quick ways to reduce your individual carbon footprint include:

  • For your home: Replace incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFL), use power strips for small appliances and equipment that can be shut off when not in use, use a programmable thermostat and turn it down a couple degrees in winter and up a couple degrees in summer.


  • Transportation: Consider using one of Denver’s alternative transportation methods such as the RTD light rail/bus system or utilizing the many miles of bicycle paths and lanes with your own bike or through Denver B-Cycle. 


  • Waste and Consumption: Take advantage of Denver’s curbside recycling program and, if available, Denver’s curbside composting program, take reusable bags with you while shopping, consider renting  or borrowing items if possible, and purchase long-lasting, durable goods.


  • Food: Visit one of Denver’s local farmers markets for fresh, local food options, monitor your animal based food intake in accordance with Daily Food Plan. Typically, a healthy diet that is balanced with fruits and vegetables, which produce less greenhouse gas to grow compared to processed foods or animal based foods, will reduce your carbon footprint.

In addition, programs such as Denver Energy Challenge and Certifiably Green Denver will help your home or small/medium sized business be more energy efficient. These programs reduce greenhouse gas emissions while saving you money through energy savings.

Denver published its first Climate Action Plan in 2007. Most cities that are doing climate work started on a similar path. There was clearly a need to reduce emissions to prevent the most detrimental effects of climate change for the next generation(s). Since carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases have long lifetimes, there was the need to get started right away.

As evidence mounts that the climate is already changing, more cities have developed climate adaptation plans that outline how cities will mitigate and prepare for extreme weather events such as heat waves, extreme precipitation, flooding, droughts, etc. In Denver, our infrastructure including buildings, storm sewers, tree canopy, creeks/rivers are all vulnerable to a changing climate. In addition, public health impacts from increased heat and/or diminished air quality are also key vulnerabilities. 

In 2014, Denver released its first Climate Adaptation Plan to prepare for a changing climate.  Strategies within this plan are designed to be implemented over the next decade. 

Climate Adaptation

Supplementing Denver's Climate Action Plan that was unveiled in 2007, the  Climate Adaptation Plan offers collaborative strategies to adapt to a future climate with higher temperatures, more extreme weather events, and changes to annual snowpack.