Aspen’s race to net zero is a long run

A bulldozer moves trash through the Pitkin County Landfill landfill off Highway 82 on Friday, Feb. 25, 2022. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

While greenhouse gas emissions in the city of Aspen have been reduced by 23% over the past five years, the city government still has a long way to go to reach its ambitious goal of reaching net zero. by 2050.

This is according to the city’s greenhouse gas emissions report which measured energy use, pollution and waste generation in Aspen in 2019 and 2020.

Residential and commercial buildings accounted for the largest amount of emissions, accounting for 57% of the total, according to the city’s report released last week.

Transportation emissions were the second largest contributor, with 15% of Aspen’s emissions coming from aviation and 11% from road transportation.

A line of cars on Highway 82 is backed up to the Aspen/Pitkin County Airport as they merge into a single lane. According to the city’s latest greenhouse gas emissions report, 15% of Aspen’s emissions come from aviation and 11% from road transportation. (Kelsey Brunner Archive/The Aspen Times)

The amount of waste generated in the city translates to 16% of Aspen’s total emissions in 2020 and 15% in 2019, with nearly all of it coming from landfill.

On average, 17.3 pounds of trash are generated per capita each day in Aspen, four times the national average of 4.5 pounds per day. However, the report states, “This per capita value only reflects Aspen’s full-time resident population and does not take into account that Aspen is a tourism-based economy. Therefore, all waste generated by out-of-town visitors is attributed to residents.

Construction and demolition waste represents 58% of the tonnage deposited at the Pitkin County Solid Waste Center, and total community-generated solid waste emissions have increased 2% since 2017, which is the last time the city ​​has commissioned a report on GHG emissions.

It says Aspen residents generated nearly 26 tons of emissions per capita in 2020 and while that’s higher than the national average of about 20 tons per person, the influx of people Aspen experiences during the months of summer and winter tourism is not reflected in the total per capita.

Tim Karfs, the city’s sustainability programs administrator, said he recognizes that reducing waste is a key part of meeting the city government‘s goal of eliminating GHG emissions.

“I’m looking at the total waste and we have work to do there,” he said, adding that he and the team from the city’s climate action office will present options for the ordinances on Monday. diversion of organic waste.

The emissions report will be used to inform the Aspen City Council about policies it may consider in the future, as well as for the city’s climate action plan, which is due to be updated next year. next, Karfs said.

“I think it’s essential for long-term staff planning and it’s a baseline for the council’s climate action goals,” he said.

Last fall, council agreed to adopt updated climate action goals and a waste reduction plan that includes mandatory composting and reduced construction and demolition waste.

A garbage truck dumps a load of trash at the Pitkin County landfill near Highway 82 on Friday, Feb. 25, 2022. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Ordinances related to these efforts are expected to be submitted to council this year.

This spring, Council will consider an ordinance related to a program called Building IQ that will require commercial and multi-family buildings to assess energy and water usage.

Second, it will oblige building owners to work towards achieving a standard of performance and reducing energy consumption.

While energy use in buildings accounts for the largest generation of GHG emissions, residential and commercial energy emissions have declined significantly, the report says.

Residential emissions have decreased by 30% and commercial emissions have decreased by 18% over the past five years, according to the report.

“This can largely be attributed to the adoption of renewable energy policies and programs by the city’s electric utility providers: Aspen Electric has moved to 100% renewable energy and Holy Cross has actively greened its mix of fuels over the past several years,” the report said. bed.

Natural gas generated the most emissions at 32% of the community total, followed by electricity at 26%.

The city has been monitoring GHG emissions since 2004 and is considered a leader in the fight against climate change with its policies adopted over the years, according to Karfs.

“I think Aspen is a leader in this area and we’ve had some substantial wins since 2004,” he said.

Last fall, the Council adopted new climate targets based on updated science-based targets set by a non-profit organization called ICLEI..

So rather than reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050, which was a goal set 14 years ago, the city is aiming for a 63% reduction by 2030 and a reduction of 100% – net zero – by 2050.

Councilor Ward Hauenstein, who sits on the board of the Community Office for Resource Efficiency, said he was recently told that 81% of aviation emissions come from private jets and 19% from commercial planes at Sardy Field .

Planes wait to take off in August 2020 at Aspen-Pitkin County Airport. Within the transport sector, aviation is the largest emitter, accounting for 58% of transport emissions in 2020 and 57% in 2019, according to the report.
Austin Colbert Archive/The Aspen Times

Within the transport sector, aviation is the largest emitter, accounting for 58% of transport emissions in 2020 and 57% in 2019, according to the report.

Since 2017, aviation emissions have increased by almost 63%.

Local officials have very little control over this type of activity and with the consumer lifestyles of the rich and famous here, reaching net zero will be difficult, Hauenstein acknowledged.

“I don’t have a lot of confidence in that,” he said on Friday.

Karfs also acknowledged that the goals are ambitious.

“It’s ambitious but it’s necessary,” he said.

The report’s introduction cites the 2020 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as having released a “red code for humanity”, warning that human activities are changing the climate at an unprecedented rate. The report states that, “unless rapid and deep reductions in CO2 and other greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions occur”, global warming will exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius in the coming decades.

“The climate crisis could have long-term impacts on the local economy, environment and human health in Aspen,” the city’s GHG emissions report said. “The region could see temperature increases between 2.5 and 6.5 degrees Fahrenheit; hotter and drier summers; and greater amounts of winter precipitation falling as rain rather than snow.

“Observed changes in regional conditions, such as Aspen experiencing 31 more frost-free days per year than between 1980 and 1989, provide evidence that climate change is already manifesting locally,” the report continues. “As is the case globally, the extent to which Aspen will be affected by climate change in the medium to long term is directly related to current and future emissions trajectories.”

The most recent accounting of GHG emissions inventories is a regional effort led by the Community Office for Resource Efficiency, with participation from the City, Pitkin County and the towns of Basalt and Snowmass Village.

Those governments have yet to release their results, according to Karfs.

CORE is overseeing the contract with Lotus Engineering and Sustainability, LLC to report GHG emissions, and the city is contributing $19,000 for its document.

Phi Filerman, CORE’s community sustainability manager, said the other jurisdictions should be complete soon and will provide a picture of the individual community and region’s emissions so officials can determine if there are opportunities. more significant impacts.

“All of our communities are stepping up,” she said, “and if anyone has the ability to meet these challenges, it’s us.”

Comments are closed.