Update: On Oct. 25, city council voted 5-1 to adopt an interim climate goal of 50% below 2005 levels of greenhouse gas emissions by 2026. Council member Shirley Peel voted against the interim goal and council member Julie Pignataro was absent for the vote.
At a work session on Tuesday, Oct. 11, Fort Collins City Council members looked at past greenhouse gas emissions data and a roadmap to reduce emissions moving forward created by staff to help them determine what to set as an interim climate goal for 2026.
The city currently has the goal of reducing emissions by 80% of the 2005 level by 2030, which was set in 2015, and a longer-term goal to be be fully carbon neutral by 2050.
Data from 2021 showed the city is currently 24% below 2005 emission levels.
Community members have been asking the council for months to implement an interim greenhouse gas emissions goal to help keep the city on track to meeting the 2030 goal.
As a response to community wants, city staff brought a resolution to council on Aug. 16 asking them to set an interim climate goal and recommended somewhere between the range of 28% and 48% below the 2005 base metric.
However, council members determined at the time that they didn’t have enough information to make an informed interim goal because they weren’t sure what actions would be implemented by the city to meet whatever interim goal they set and didn’t want to pick an arbitrary number.
“It's not just the setting of a goal ... the meaningful part is the activities that you perform to obtain that goal,” said Mayor Jeni Arndt at the Aug. 16 meeting.
So, at Tuesday’s work session, staff brought them an outline of those actions and forecast what the city’s reductions could be by 2030 if all the actions were implemented on schedule, with the hope of allowing council to make an informed interim goal.
City-led initiatives could get Fort Collins to 43% reduction by 2026, 70% by 2030
According to data presented by Honore Depew, the city’s climate program manager, if Fort Collins continued operating as is and didn’t take any extra steps to reduce emissions, emissions would be projected to worsen by 2026 to 21% below 2005 emissions.
But there’s much the city can do to change that and near its goal, staff said. Programs and shifts in operation primarily need to occur across six main areas — electricity, building operations, industrial manufacturing, transportation, waste and land use — in order for the city to hit its goal, according to Depew.
However, even with all changes in the roadmap being implemented, projections did not forecast the city meeting its goal of 80% reductions by 2030. Projections instead capped out at 70%.
John Phelan, energy services manager for the city, said the forecasts don’t mean the city can’t hit its goal, but that 70% is more realistic based on what staff can project now.
“Everything that we've been able to calculate shows us at 70%. In order to reach 80%, which we're not saying we can't do, it's going to require either more action, higher adoption rates, more community buy-in and community action than we currently can reasonably put forward for you,” Phelan told council.
Suggested actions to hit the projected 70% reduction ranged from developing building performance standards to starting new transit routes to creating a policy for food scraps. The roadmap cleanly outlined which year each recommendation should be implemented.
If the city implements the programs recommended over the course of the next seven years and the forecasts are right, Fort Collins should be about 43% below starting levels by 2026.
However, staff was clear that 43% wasn’t their recommendation for council’s interim goal, that is just what is projected to happen based on the presented programs and action map.
Most of council wants to aim higher than forecast, set ‘stretch’ goal
While 43% is the forecast reduction based on what staff brought forward in its roadmap for council, most council members want to set a higher goal and push for more change quicker.
Council member Julie Pignataro said the presentation from staff was extremely helpful and the she appreciated the amount of data that would help them select an interim. She said she was comfortable “somewhere between the 45 to 50% range” because she’s a “fan of stretch goals.”
“I think that some things are going to become more apparent in the next two years that could really help us solidify that, and I would love to see us reassess (the goal),” Pignataro said, adding that she hopes the roadmap and goal are updated as they make progress toward goals or hit goals.
Mayor Pro Tem Emily Francis also supported a goal in the 45% to 50% range but asked staff how raising the goal would shift the roadmap they presented. Phelan said they would have to “seek other ways to reach that goal and continue to iterate that as we would with new information coming in.”
Council members Tricia Canonico and Kelly Ohlson also expressed support for a higher interim goal.
Ohlson said the timetable of the reductions and the roadmap were “a little slow for (his) taste” and that he’d like to see the goal at 50%, a number Canonico also supported.
“I’m more around the 50% figure … because nobody loses their job if we don't hit it,” Ohlson said, adding that he originally was thinking somewhere around 56% or 58% but wants to be realistic.
Arndt, the only council member who expressed support for a goal on the lower end, said she supported a goal of 43% based on staff’s modeling. She emphasized that if council wants to go higher they’ll have to be sure to “identify the tradeoffs that we would have in our budget and our policy recommendations in order to (achieve a higher goal).”
Council members Shirley Peel and Susan Gutowsky didn’t speak on the interim goal.
Staff is set to bring a resolution before council to adopt an interim climate goal on Oct. 25 and said it will likely be between 43% to 50% based on council’s comments.
Molly Bohannon covers city government for the Coloradoan. Follow her on Twitter @molboha or contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Support her work and that of other Coloradoan journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.
This article originally appeared on Fort Collins Coloradoan: Fort Collins considers interim ‘stretch’ greenhouse gas goal for 2026