Minneapolis has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 12.8 percent since 2006, putting the city on pace to meet longer-term goals designed to confront climate change.
But the reductions aren't entirely the result of the Climate Action Plan the city first adopted nearly 20 years ago: Job losses, population decline and some mild weather also played a part.
"We're not ready to declare victory," said Brendon Slotterback, Minneapolis' sustainability program coordinator.
Indeed, the city launched an effort this week to update the plan that will identify ways residents and workplaces might continue to reduce emissions and energy use in buildings, transportation, and waste and recycling efforts. Built on ideas from citizens and other "stakeholders," the update could look into low-interest loans for building improvements, increasing alternatives to solo car use, more incentives to recycle and reduce waste and other strategies. It is expected to be completed by year's end.
St. Paul is also updating its climate action plan. Both cities drew up their plans in 1993, along with a small number of other cities in the United States, Canada and Europe under a U.N. initiative. That effort was based on the participants' idea that the cumulative effect of many local policies could more effectively reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and thus slow global warming, than national or international agreements. Minneapolis Mayor Don Fraser said at the time that while global warming did not appear to be an immediate threat, "tomorrow's problems may become today's disasters before we know it."
Similar local efforts are now underway in more than 1,000 U.S. cities, where mayors have signed the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement. Minneapolis and St. Paul are striving to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 15 percent from 2006 levels by 2015 and 30 percent by 2025.
Although they've reduced emissions, Minneapolis residents and businesses haven't cut electricity use significantly. The emissions reductions may be due, in part, to electricity coming from cleaner sources, such as wind and solar, as mandated by Gov. Tim Pawlenty and the Legislature in 2007, Slotterback noted. Minneapolis did reduce its natural gas use by 17 percent from 2006 to 2010, but population loss and shuttered workplaces may have played a role in that.
Similarly, driving miles and emissions from transportation declined slightly. That may also be tied to the economic slowdown, but emissions reductions could continue as more fuel-efficient vehicles continue to come into the market, Slotterback said. Other new technologies in transportation and architecture are also likely to help reduce emissions, he added.
St. Paul has not analyzed its energy use and emissions in the same way Minneapolis has, so exact comparisons aren't possible.
Mayor Chris Coleman's energy policy director, Anne Hunt, noted St. Paul has reduced energy use in the city's own buildings by an average of 20 percent since 2009. Emissions from all sources are likely on the decline, she added, because of the conversion of Xcel Energy's High Bridge power plant from coal to natural gas fuel in 2008, and the conversion of the city's own downtown heating and cooling provider from coal- and gas-burning to wood in 2004.
The Center for Energy and the Environment, a partner with Minneapolis on the Climate Action Plan, has done energy audits on about 4,500 Minneapolis homes since 2009, outlining how owners can save energy. It's distributed about 50,000 compact fluorescent light bulbs along the way, said program and policy manager Carl Nelson. Its goal is to analyze 80,000 homes.
Nelson said climate change is not necessarily what prompts homeowners to participate.
"I talk to hundreds of Minneapolis residents every month," he said. "We don't focus on climate change. We focus on saving energy, saving money and making their homes more energy efficient. And avoiding ice dams!
"I think there are a lot of reasons why people do things that result in cutting carbon [dioxide]," he added. "Concern about climate change is just one of them."
Bill McAuliffe • 612-673-7646