DULUTH – The Duluth City Council is poised to declare a climate emergency and direct city administration to submit a plan by the end of the year to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
"The purpose is not to lay out some kind of abstract vision that we don't know how to meet, it's to identify concrete steps we can take right now that make a practical difference," Council Member Joel Sipress said at a news conference Thursday alongside three other council members.
Duluth would be the second Minnesota city to declare a climate emergency after Minneapolis did so in 2019; it's a step taken by about 100 cities and counties around the country that Sipress said captures the magnitude of the issue.
"It's part of a national and global movement that calls us to action in the face of this crisis, a crisis that requires bold action like any other local or national emergency," he said.
The resolution, which will come up for a vote at Monday's meeting, calls on Duluth to exceed its existing goal to reduce emissions 80% by 2050 via a "climate action work plan" city officials would develop and submit to the council by the end of the year.
Last year the city hired its first sustainability officer, Mindy Granley, who helped write the resolution. "We welcome the resolution to declare climate change an emergency," Mayor Emily Larson said in a statement. "The resolution demonstrates that the things that we have already been working on internally are important to the council and our residents."
Council Member Arik Forsman said the resolution and emergency declaration would not come with any business mandates or new taxes. The city's action plan, however, could recommend such steps or other measures in the future.
"If this work is done well, it's an opportunity for our community to come together," Forsman said. "I believe that this specific approach can lead to positive change for our city in a way that brings all our stakeholders together."
Council Member Roz Randorf, whose district includes Park Point, said the effects of climate change are already felt by Duluthians seeing increased erosion, basement flooding and more intense storms like those that destroyed the Lakewalk.
Since 1950 the average annual temperature in Duluth has increased by nearly 2 degrees, and the city experiences eight fewer days below freezing each year, according to a 2015 report. Heavy precipitation events also increased 37% in that time.
The report found that children, elderly residents, communities of color, those with disabilities and those experiencing poverty will be most affected by a changing climate.
Talk of Duluth becoming a "climate refuge" — a place those escaping warmer climates may migrate toward — does not change the need for the city to "play its part" in reducing emissions, building climate resilience and focusing on the populations most at risk, Sipress said.
"We know that the impact of climate change will not fall evenly on all of us. And those most at risk from climate change are those who are already in a socially vulnerable position."
Brooks Johnson • 218-491-6496