This week, 19 of 20 countries with the largest economies in the world met in France to discuss how bold, global action can prevent a climate catastrophe. The United States is the one nation missing from this vital conversation. This comes on the heels of the annual meeting of countries that are signatories to the Paris Climate Agreement. During that global summit last month, Syria joined the Paris Agreement, leaving the U.S. as the only national government in the world not working to prevent disastrous climate change.
In contrast, Minnesota was well-represented at the global climate summit in Germany. Delegations from Climate Generation: A Will Steger Legacy, the University of Minnesota, Macalester College and Fresh Energy included legal and policy experts, political leaders, youth and business. We returned with a commitment to ensure that Minnesota is a climate leader. We’re writing today because Minnesota needs to act now with specific policies to ensure that our leadership is more than mere words.
Minnesotans might think that global warming is something distant and that impacts of climate change will be felt by other people in other places. But Minnesota has much to lose in a warming world. Indeed, we are already experiencing the impacts. We are one of the fastest-warming states in America with dramatically warmer winters, extreme rainstorms and historic floods. Many symbols of our state are at risk from a changing climate, from our state bird the loon to the iconic moose of our North Woods. Our children and grandchildren may one day ask why our state bird no longer lives in Minnesota.
As the federal government abdicates U.S. leadership on climate, Gov. Minnesota Gov. Dayton has stepped up by joining the U.S. Climate Alliance, a group of states pledged to meeting the U.S. commitment in the Paris Agreement. Earlier than many states, we established ambitious goals for ourselves in the Next Generation Energy Act — bipartisan 2007 legislation that many point to as evidence that our state is ahead of the curve.
But we must guard against Minnesota exceptionalism becoming Minnesota complacency. Minnesota already missed the goal of reducing our greenhouse-gas emissions by 15 percent in 2015, and unless bold action is taken, will also miss the goal of reducing emissions 30 percent by 2025. In fact, the most recent data available show that in 2014, Minnesota had reduced our carbon emissions just 4 percent from 2005 to 2014. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency currently projects Minnesota to flatline on carbon emissions through 2030. This is not the dramatic reduction needed to meet this incredible challenge.
Meanwhile, other states are taking real action to meet their climate commitments, and voters support these efforts. These efforts are backed by bipartisan majorities of voters. In New Jersey, both major-party candidates for governor campaigned on a promise to rejoin a regional market-based program that limits greenhouse-gas emissions. In Virginia, voters elected a governor who committed to strong executive action to quickly reduce carbon emissions.
Here are actions Minnesota can and should take quickly to put us back on track:
• Joining 10 states in adopting clean car standards, including the zero-emission vehicle mandate.
• Increasing the share of renewable electrical generation to 50 percent by 2030. Minnesota currently gets 23 percent of our electricity from renewable sources.
• Establishing a cap on greenhouse-gas emissions that would allow us to meet the goals of the Next Generation Energy Act and ready Minnesota for a market-based cap-and-trade program.
• Preparing state climate mitigation and adaptation strategies.
As Minnesota delegates to the global climate summit, we were inspired by many stories and examples of states, cities and companies worldwide that have taken up the mantle of climate leadership. We heard from Gov. Jerry Brown about what California is doing, from the mayor of Indianapolis about what his city is doing, and from U.S. Sen. Ed Markey and state Rep. Josh Cutler from Massachusetts about what their state is doing. These stories underscore the need for Minnesota to step up.
Minnesota has a history of leading on climate, but words and pledges are not enough. Our goals must be backed by actions that protect a livable climate for our children and grandchildren. We look to our state’s elected leaders to accept this challenge and get to work.
Leigh Currie is clean energy director, Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy. Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, is a member of the Minnesota House. This article was also submitted on behalf of Ellen Anderson, executive director, Energy Transition Lab, University of Minnesota; Aurora Conley, Anishinabe Environmental Protection Alliance; Espoir DelMain, student, Dickinson College; Ian Empson, student, Breck School; J. Drake Hamilton, science policy director, Fresh Energy; Roopali Phadke, professor, Macalester College; Cheryl Olseth, director, Olseth Family Foundation; and John Olson, science educator.