Climate Change in Columbia

Climate change is a shift in the long-term, average weather patterns. When climate changes over thousands of years, plants and animals often adapt. When climate changes rapidly—over hundreds of years—drastic changes including mass extinctions have occurred. Our climate is changing rapidly. Decades of burning fossil fuels and other human activities have released dangerous levels of heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere. These GHGs—carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxides and others—are driving abrupt changes in our climate.


Climate Impacts

Observed and Predicted Changes

The climate in Columbia has already been changing. This is evident in the longer summer heat waves and increases in annual precipitation. Due to the staying power of GHGs in the atmosphere, even if we stop all emissions of GHGs today, there will still be additional changes in our climate for years to come. This makes it imperative to also be reducing GHG emissions as we prepare for a changing climate to lessen the impacts felt tomorrow.


Climate Impacts


Current: Annual temperatures in the Midwest are now 1.3°F warmer on average, and the coldest day of the year is now 2.9°F warmer, compared to the 1900-1950 average. In Columbia, winters and springs have had the most warming, with fewer cold waves since the mid-1980s. Meanwhile, summer nights in Columbia have been getting warmer and more humid.

Future: By the late century, Missouri could have over 25 days each year above 95°F, compared to the 5-15 days that we currently experience. Heat waves in the Midwest are expected to become even hotter by 2050, by about 13°F. With that change, extreme heat in Columbia could more regularly reach temperatures well over 100°F.


Climate Impacts


Current: Columbia has seen about a 10% increase in precipitation, with more of that increase coming in the winter and spring. Heavy rain events are also happening twice as often now as compared to the time period of 1890-1984. Increased rainfall has meant more frequent flooding.

Future: Across the Midwest, annual precipitation is expected to increase. By mid-century, Columbia could see 7% more rainfall each year and more heavy rain events compared to the last century. However, summer drought will likely be more common in Missouri in the future.


Climate Impacts

Air Quality

Current: Air quality in Boone County reached unhealthy levels on 13 days between 2012 and 2014. Long-term trends are unknown, but warmer air temperatures are known to increase ozone smog.

Future: Warmer temperatures may worsen air quality in parts of Missouri in the future. Days of poor air quality may become more common in Columbia.


Risks & Vulnerabilities

Vulnerability Assessment

To better understand the extent to which climate change will affect Columbia, a climate vulnerability assessment was conducted with support from the Climate Action & Adaptation Task Force and City staff. The vulnerability assessment assigns vulnerability rankings to key systems within the Columbia community, taking into account three factors in relation to anticipated climate change impacts: 

        1. Exposure: The number of people and value of assets in harm’s way or at risk due to their physical location.
        2. Sensitivity: The severity of the consequences of being exposed to these risks and the degree to which climate change exacerbated existing stressors.
        3. Adaptive capacity: Steps the City and community are already taking to prepare for climate change impacts and whether they have existing capacity to accelerate and/or expand those efforts, if needed.

The results of the vulnerability assessment indicated that Columbia is most vulnerable to heat stress, air quality, and vector borne diseases.


Greenhouse Gas Emissions - Community

Community GHG Emissions

GHG emissions are produced when we use energy in our homes and offices, dispose of waste or sewage and use fossil fuel powered vehicles. GHGs trap heat in the atmosphere, leading to lasting disruptions in our climate, such as higher temperatures and more frequent extreme weather events that can cause flooding. Columbia, along with many other cities, organizations, and businesses—both nationally and internationally—are reducing their emissions to avoid severe impacts from climate change. To determine effective actions and targets, Columbia has conducted GHG emissions inventories for our municipal operations and the community as a whole. 

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is perhaps the most familiar GHG. Methane, nitrous oxides and other gases also have heat trapping capacities that are more potent than CO2. We measure GHGs in metric tons of CO2 equivalent (mtCO2e), which accounts for GHGs based on how their heat trapping capacity compares to CO2.
MTCO2eMetric Tons of Carbon Dioxide Equivalent

Our Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Our Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Our Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Total Community GHG Emissions by Sector 2015

In 2015, Columbia's community-wide emissions were 2,429,305 MTCO2e. It would take over 3 million acres of new forest to sequester this much carbon in one year. The majority of Columbia's emissions came from the energy used by our commercial sector and the fuel required to get us around the city. Home energy use was responsible for 25% of our total emissions.

Our Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Municipal GHGs by Sector

The City of Columbia conducted its first municipal GHG emissions inventory for the calendar year 2015. The results demonstrate that electricity is the largest source of emissions.


Our Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Modeling Impact: The Wedge Analysis

This wedge analysis suggests that if Columbia fully implements the strategies and actions of the CAAP, the community can meet its GHG reduction targets. Specifically, the wedge analysis shows Columbia can achieve a 56% reduction in community-wide emissions from 2015 levels by 2035 and an 83% reduction by 2050.

Our Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Municipal Greenhouse Gas Emissions by Sector

As a part of the development of this Plan, a municipal emissions inventory was completed. The results indicated that energy emissions total 92,821 MTCO2e, 58% of the 2015 municipal inventory. Emissions associated with landfill operations and wastewater treatment total to 53,072 MTCO2e (31%). GHGs associated with the operation of City fleet and transit vehicles, City employee commuting and ground equipment at the airport total 17,630 MTCO2e, (11%). Reporting total emissions from these sources is important and will continue to inform broader process changes and our progress toward meeting community emissions reduction goals.


The Social Cost of Carbon Pollution

Social Cost of Carbon

Social, climate and economic costs of climate change, largely due to burning fossil fuels, are not included in the price we pay for the fuels themselves. Burning fossil fuels results in economic consequences, such as infrastructure damage from flooding, fires or extreme storms. Social consequences could include health impacts, such as increases in child asthma. Despite the very real nature of these costs, the market price of fossil fuels does not include these societal “externalities.” Identifying the true social costs of burning fossil fuels can help policymakers decide if investments in climate action are cost effective. Researchers, including those at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, have worked to quantify the economic losses associated with each metric ton of carbon dioxide burned. This is called the “social cost of carbon.” The EPA estimates a range of possible social costs of carbon depending on the year and discount rate applied to the future. These estimates range from $36 per MTCO2e in 2015 to $69 per MTCO2e in 2050.* However, the EPA acknowledges that current modeling does not include all important damages—estimates by other agencies and researchers are far higher. Some recent estimates have determined the social cost of carbon could be as high as $100-$200 per MTCO2e.**

* “The Social Cost of Carbon.” 2017.
** Ricke, K., Drouet, L., Caldeira, K., & Tavoni, M. (2018). Country-level social cost of carbon. Nature Climate Change, 8(10), 895. Pindyck, R. S. (2019). The social cost of carbon revisited. Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, 94, 140-160.

Climate Change in Columbia

Be Part of the Solution!

All Columbians need to be actively engaged in our resilient future.

We don’t always know when an extreme event will strike and FEMA recommends that everyone be prepared to go without power for up to 72 hours. Put together your preparedness kit today!

Prepare a Kit
From what we eat to the vehicles we drive, there are many actions we all can take to reduce our personal GHG emissions.

Easy Actions to Reduce GHGs