Colorado’s Rep. Jackson to talk environmental justice at UN climate summit
World leaders convene in Glasgow for pivotal COP26 event
State Rep. Dominique Jackson addresses a rally on May 13, 2021, in support of Senate Bill 21-200, a major piece of climate-change legislation opposed by Gov. Jared Polis. (Chase Woodruff/Colorado Newsline)
Government leaders from around the world have convened in Glasgow for the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, also known as COP26, and a state lawmaker who has helped lead environmental justice efforts in Colorado is among them.
Rep. Dominique Jackson, a Democrat from Aurora, is attending COP26 as part of a delegation organized by the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators, a state lawmakers’ group.
“I’m going there to learn,” Jackson told Newsline in an interview. “I want to know what everyone’s doing around the world.”
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As an NCEL delegate, Jackson is scheduled to take part in two panels hosted by the U.S. Climate Action Center, a coalition of environmental nonprofits. Titled “Addressing Environmental Injustice and Inequities in Subnational Policy” and “Global Issues, Subnational Solutions: How US States Are Leading on Climate Action,” both panels are scheduled for Nov. 6.
Earlier this year, Jackson was a lead sponsor of two key pieces of climate legislation, House Bill 21-1266 and Senate Bill 21-200, which sought to strengthen state efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions with a special emphasis on equity and environmental justice. In Colorado, low-income neighborhoods and communities of color have long faced disproportionate impacts from fossil-fuel pollution, including the oil refineries and highways that threaten neighborhoods on Denver’s north side.
Jackson said the message she’ll carry to Glasgow will emphasize the need for elected officials to serve as “catalysts” on behalf of disproportionately impacted communities.
“The solutions for addressing environmental justice come from community, they come from the inside,” Jackson said. “That’s what I have found. Nobody knows what’s happening in their own backyard like the people who live in that backyard.”
“They’re the only ones who know what those injustices feel like, what the historical context of those injustices are, and therefore what should be done to mitigate those injustices,” she added.
The COP26 conference — the U.N.’s 26th “Conference of the Parties” on climate change — is widely considered the most important global summit on the issue since the Paris Agreement was negotiated at COP21 in 2015.
The latest report from scientists at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, released in August, was another “code red for humanity,” warned U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres. Averting the most catastrophic impacts of global warming would require halving global emissions by 2030 and reaching net-zero before 2050, scientists say — but emissions are surging again this year after dipping in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The latest COP summit comes amid renewed hope that the United States, the world’s largest economy and second-largest greenhouse gas emitter after China, will act to reduce emissions, though negotiations over a budget bill remained bogged down in Congress. President Joe Biden, who recommitted the U.S. to the Paris Agreement within hours of taking office on Jan. 20, is attending the conference.
In Colorado, lawmakers have passed a series of ambitious climate laws in the wake of Democrats’ full takeover of the statehouse in 2018, including a landmark law targeting a 50% emissions cut by 2030. Some environmental groups, however, have been left frustrated by the approach taken by Gov. Jared Polis, who has generally opposed direct regulatory action against polluters and instead advocated for a more collaborative and market-driven transition to clean energy.
Polis clashed with Jackson, Sen. Faith Winter and other Democrats who supported SB-200 earlier this year, ultimately issuing a veto threat against a bill that he said would give “dictatorial authority” to state air regulators. In a compromise, Democratic lawmakers dropped SB-200, but parts of the bill were salvaged and added to HB-1266, a separate bill aimed at boosting the state’s environmental justice efforts.
I have hope. I trust in my colleagues, I trust in community, and I trust in my neighbors.
– State Rep. Dominique Jackson
HB-1266 established an environmental justice unit within the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, which hired the program’s first staffers in June. The Colorado Department of Transportation, which is overseeing a variety of state initiatives to reduce pollution from cars and trucks, is also launching a similar division, as required by lawmakers in Senate Bill 21-260, a transportation-funding bill.
With many disproportionately impacted communities dealing with legacies of pollution that date back decades, Jackson said the work of righting those wrongs has only just begun.
“We only just passed (HB-)1266 a few months ago, so I don’t think we’re very far along in that process,” she said. “I have hope. I trust in my colleagues, I trust in community, and I trust in my neighbors. And I have faith that all of those that have committed to doing the work, including the state agencies, will in fact do so.”
Jackson, who plans to stay through the end of COP26 on Nov. 12, said she hopes the summit will give her and other government leaders from around the world both inspiration and a renewed sense of urgency to confront the climate crisis.
“I want to come back … not necessarily having a bunch of answers, but (with) some new ideas to discuss with people,” Jackson said. “And I want to come back with a sense of excitement and hope.”
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