It was a com­pli­cated year for cli­mate change and clean-air pol­icy.

The Denver Post - - NEWS -

As Amer­ica rolls into 2017, cli­mate war­riors on both sides pre­pare for bat­tle. Be­fore the fight­ing breaks out, it be­hooves the na­tion to re­flect on where things stand in the fi­nal days of 2016. It was a com­pli­cated year for cli­mate change and clean-air pol­icy, though prob­a­bly not a wa­ter­shed one.

The worst news is that tem­per­a­tures con­tinue to in­crease — 2016 will likely be the warmest year on record, break­ing the record for the third year in a row. Even if we just miss it, the up­ward trend of global tem­per­a­tures over­all con­tin­ues at a per­ilous rate.

And as the planet sits a cou­ple of de­grees warmer than pre-in­dus­trial lev­els, real im­pacts are emerg­ing. In Colorado it’s born out through di­min­ished snow­pack in the moun­tains, drought and heat-in­duced wild­fires and pine bee­tles and now spruce bee­tles dev­as­tat­ing our forests. Al­though 2016 was a great year in the state for pre­cip­i­ta­tion, the EPA says April snow­pack has de­clined by 23 per­cent over the past 61 years in the West in part due to warm­ing tem­per­a­tures.

Even more star­tling are changes at the top and bot­tom of the world. In the Arc­tic, water tem­per­a­tures are as much as 9 de­grees warmer than the 30-year av­er­age, and sea ice late in the year has been at a record min­i­mum. In the Antarc­tic, glacial melt­ing is hap­pen­ing at a star­tling rate, threat­en­ing un­prece­dented seal level rise.

Bad cli­mate news isn’t al­ways so ob­vi­ous, though. This year, Volk­swa­gen reached a set­tle­ment with its cus­tomers and the fed­eral govern­ment over the com­pany’s diesel cars that had il­le­gally high emis­sions. VW will buy back most of the ve­hi­cles. The set­tle­ment in­cludes a hefty pay­ment to the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency to off­set the neg­a­tive im­pacts the emis­sions had.

The year had some cli­mate bright spots.

The bright­est was rat­i­fi­ca­tion of the Paris cli­mate agree­ment. The United States joined with nearly 200 other coun­tries in a com­mit­ment to limit tem­per­a­ture in­creases. No one coun­try can solve the global threat of cli­mate change. In­ter­na­tional col­lab­o­ra­tion and shared re­spon­si­bil­ity must be cor­ner­stones of se­ri­ous at­tempts to pre­vent cat­a­strophic out­comes.

Mean­while, Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan con­tin­ues to prom­ise over­due reg­u­la­tion to some of the worst pol­luters. Un­for­tu­nately, the whole thing is in limbo, thanks in no small part to op­po­si­tion from of­fi­cials in sev­eral states, in­clud­ing Colorado Attorney Gen­eral Cyn­thia Coff­man.

And Colorado’s Gov. John Hick­en­looper will have to de­cide what to do with that draft ex­ec­u­tive order that was leaked in Au­gust. It would call for a 35 per­cent re­duc­tion in car­bon diox­ide emis­sions from power com­pa­nies by 2030. That would be a big step for the state, but only if Hick­en­looper can truly im­ple­ment it in a way that wouldn’t mean job-killing cost in­creases for op­er­a­tors and pock­et­book-break­ing rate hikes for con­sumers.

The EPA took clean air stan­dards into its own hands this year, low­er­ing the al­low­able lev­els of ozone. We thought the new stan­dards, which are be­yond the reach of Den­ver and much of the Front Range due to back­ground lev­els of ozone set­tling here from other parts of the coun­try, went too far. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t con­cerned with the quality of air in Den­ver and the health con­se­quences of high ozone lev­els.

The world must come to­gether to ad­dress cli­mate change and clean air. No sin­gle city, state or coun­try will re­verse the man­made con­tri­bu­tions to global warm­ing or the ad­vent of smog alone, but we also can’t sit on the side­lines and blame oth­ers for our cur­rent predica­ment.

Colorado Attorney Gen­eral Cyn­thia Coff­man was one of sev­eral state AGs who is su­ing the EPA over the Clean Power Plan. Brent Lewis, Den­ver Post file

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