The year 2020 is only half over, and already it has been a year like no other. The first six months were dominated by a health crisis due to COVID-19, an economic crisis as a result of the pandemic and a global civil rights movement after the murder of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis.
Amidst these issues, a local task force — launched in 2019 to tackle how Denver should be responding to the climate crisis — grappled with that global issue, with 2020 as a new backdrop. They had to adapt to virtual meetings and outreach, when in-person had been planned; and although they had put race and social justice at the front of their work before George Floyd was murdered, it took on a new level of urgency as their recommendations came together.
The task force has finalized its work into Denver’s Climate Action Recommendations Report. The report is an aggressive call to immediate action to prepare Denver to cut emissions in order to combat the worst effects of a rise in global temperatures, and to adapt to a climate that is already changing. COVID-19 has taught us how quickly we need to adapt and respond to a crisis in order to save lives, and just how disproportionately communities of color are affected when we don’t act. Our community, state and the country have not addressed the climate crisis adequately, but with this report, we have a roadmap for Denver to step up to meet this challenge head on.
Last year, I brought forward legislation to create a separate office dedicated to tackling the climate crisis, putting us in line with most other major cities that are taking the necessary steps to combat climate change. The Denver Office of Climate Action, Sustainability & Resiliency was officially launched on July 1. Over the past months, I sat in on and listened to the Climate Action Task Force meetings. They were charged with the enormous challenge of how Denver should respond to climate change equitably and with broad community support. The task force represented many different backgrounds including small business interests, real estate, Xcel Energy, the solar industry, the oil and gas industry, environmental groups, religious institutions, transportation organizations, youth-led organizations, communities of color and more. Most importantly, the task force was comprised of community leaders who hosted numerous meetings to hear from under-resourced communities, who will suffer the most damaging effects of climate change if we do nothing or fail to do enough. The task force spent hours and hours over months debating these issues, but in the end, was able to reach consensus for bold action.
The task force made it clear that the goal is not to return to normal as we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, but to emerge from this crisis with a more just, equitable, healthy and sustainable community. Climate action is intertwined with racial justice and is a necessary part of building a better, cleaner and more just Denver.
For this reason, the report is focused on equity, the cost of inaction, and support for under-resourced communities; and broken down into specific goals and recommendations for buildings and homes, transportation, electricity supply, consumption and waste, and adaptation and resiliency.
The most difficult ask for the task force was to deliver a package of revenue streams to fund the work of the new office, without negatively impacting vulnerable communities. Too often, low-income folks face extra burdens and pay more than their fair share, so the task force made it a priority to generate revenue and directly reinvest the money in these under-resourced communities.
To generate the largest amount of this needed funding, the task force recommended that city council refer a .25% sales tax — a quarter on a $100 purchase — to generate $40 million a year of new funding. The sales tax would exempt essential items such as food and necessities. The bill is scheduled for final reading at city council on Aug. 3, to be decided on by voters in the November 2020 election.
I’m so proud of the work of the task force and its bold steps to address climate change. We can’t wait any longer — it will be more expensive for our communities every day that we delay action. The recent crises have taught us that we need to be prepared for the next major challenge of our time, instead of attempting to react when it hits us.
I hope you will join me in supporting the work of the Climate Action Task Force. You can learn more at denvergov.org/climate.
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