High country small towns unite at Aspen summit

Arn Menconi
Special to The Aspen Times
Mayors from various mountain towns address issues at last week's Global Meeting of the Mountain Partnership in Aspen.
Arn Menconi/Special to the Aspen Times

Colorado’s heavy-hitter politicians joined the Global Meeting of the Mountain Partnership on Sept. 28, but it was the small, mountain-town mayors who perhaps had the most to say.

Climate experts, government representatives and stakeholders who study the unique impacts of climate change on mountain communities are in Aspen this week to discuss the triple crisis of climate change, pollution and biodiversity loss mountain communities face around the world.

Both Colorado’s U.S. senators, Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper, along with U.S. Rep. Joe Neguese and Gov. Jared Polis welcomed the delegates from over 60 countries from mountain communities from five of the world’s continents.

“Colorado is thrilled to welcome the Mountain Partnership and other United Nations agencies and alliances to showcase our world-class mountain communities, thriving outdoor industry and bold climate action. This transformational effort to protect our planet takes all of us — from government to nonprofits to philanthropy to the private sector,” Polis said.

The Sixth Global Meeting for Mountain Partnership is holding its first meeting in North America to center mountain issues in the international policy-making process. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change has given great attention to oceans and small island states in the past. This year is the “International Year of Sustainable Mountain Development.” The Mountain Partnership brings more focus to mountain regions, a quarter of the planet’s land mass.

Not only do mountains represent a significant amount of the globe and 1.6 billion people, but they also are some of the most fragile biospheres as climate destruction events become more frequent, scientists and advocates say.

“Although there is much variation over time and space, on average, mountains have been warming around 25 to 50% faster than the global mean since around 1950 (when extensive record keeping began),” said Carolina Adler, executive director of the Mountain Research Initiative.

This increases the risk to more fires, landslides, snowcap melting and droughts impacting billions of people from communities at lower altitudes like the 44 million who depend on the Colorado River Basin, she said. 

Talk globally, act locally

It’s clear how important mountains are to global ecosystems, economies and human well-being. Panelists stressed the need to bring strategies and focus to local communities. Possibly for the first time ever, eight local elected officials from Aspen to Glenwood to Vail sat on stage together, committed to leading in climate solutions.

“Because of this summit as a mayor of Vail, a mountain community, I’ve had the opportunity to see how the effects of climate change have impacted other mountain communities. This unites us internationally in the fight against global warming,” said Vail Mayor Kim Langmaid, an associate professor of sustainability studies at Colorado Mountain College.

“I was able to connect with the governor’s office and am bringing together a group of Colorado mountain towns and counties to organize a delegation to lobby for some of the half-trillion dollars for climate of the recent Infrastructure Bill and Inflation Reduction Act,” she said.

“Mountain communities are able to show how we can implement projects in renewable clean energy in our buildings and transportation systems faster than at the state level,” she added. “We can be leaders of best practices with these federal dollars to prove the benefits of these projects.”

“Five years ago, you wouldn’t have had a representative from Glenwood Springs here,” said Jonathan Godes. “The people of Glenwood have become acutely aware of the problem of climate change. We were the 7th community in the United States to convert to a 100%-electric grid.”

“Regionalism is necessary, but, even if we did everything, we couldn’t solve climate change. We don’t use our power to advocate on regional and federal levels and we need to,” said Eagle County Commissioner Matt Scherr.

Ben Bohmfalk, mayor of Carbondale, closed out the day with the candid reality of many towns and counties that are working on electrification and energy reduction: “Carbondale wants to be the first one to net zero; and I’m sure all of you (referring to other electeds) do too. I believe that all of our communities will only work closer together to achieve the goal across political divides.”

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