Minnesota is missing its targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions and is doing even worse than it was a few years ago, with increased use of natural gas and rising emissions from vehicle tailpipes among the chief culprits.
The state's latest inventory of the heat-trapping emissions, out Thursday with the first report to the governor from the state's new Climate Change Subcabinet, sets out another difficult challenge for Minnesotans weary from a pandemic.
Frank Kohlasch, climate director at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), called the rise in emissions a "wake-up call."
"While it will be challenging to move ahead in light of where we've been with COVID and economic slowdown, this is an opportunity to … take important and significant action on climate change," Kohlasch said. "I hope it can serve as a call to action for all Minnesotans."
The state is supposed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 30% by 2025, from 2005 levels. Instead, emissions have dropped just 8% — and actually rose since the last report, the new inventory shows. The state already missed its 2015 goal of a 15% reduction from 2005 levels.
Minnesota is not alone. According to a recent study by the Environmental Defense Fund, many states that set greenhouse gas emissions targets are falling short. They're significantly behind in terms of having policies to guarantee they can meet them, said Pam Kiely, the fund's director of regulatory strategy.
What makes Minnesota "more of an outlier," according to Kiely, is that the state has had its targets since 2007, and it has not put the tough regulations in place to secure changes.
"There hasn't been a significant regulatory policy effort undertaken at the [Minnesota Pollution Control Agency] designed to reduce climate pollution," Kiely said. "That's a contrast to other states."
Kiely applauded the MPCA's move to adopt a zero-emission vehicle mandate like California's, requiring automakers to supply more new electric vehicles to the state for sale. It's "very important," she said, but is not enough.
A core recommendation of her fund's report, she said, is limiting climate pollution the way governments set limits on other hazardous air pollution.
"Minnesota needs to put in place some big things, and that really means putting limits on pollution," Kiely said.
She also noted that Minnesota's targets from 2007 aren't ambitious enough to meet the reductions set by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the group of scientists convened by the United Nations.
A bright spot in Minnesota: Emissions from electricity generation continue to decline, although there was a small rise in 2018 likely due to economic growth and more heating and cooling due to warmer summer and cooler winter temperatures.
Electricity generation is the only sector on track to hit the targets laid out by the state's 2007 Next Generation Energy Act. Other sectors such as transportation, agriculture and industry have "stagnated or worsened."
The state inventory report's main takeaway: "Swift action needed beyond the power grid."
The MPCA submits the inventory to the Legislature every two years, with this report measuring through 2018. The next count will no doubt reflect emissions drops in 2020 due to COVID's economic impacts such as business closings and work-from-home policies.
The combined agriculture, forestry and land use sector declined just 2% from 2005 to 2018. However, nitrous oxide and methane emissions from farming rose 12% and 15%, respectively. Nitrous oxide mainly comes from fertilizer, methane from farm animals.
The new Climate Change Subcabinet is still figuring out how best to attack the problem. This initial report rounds up ongoing climate-related efforts at the state agencies and outlines basic goals.
The subcabinet created a host of working teams and action teams considering opportunities to reduce emissions. One team coordinates with tribal nations, for example, which the report noted have already been addressing climate change and developed expertise. Other teams target legislative actions, public involvement and transportation.
New potential actions the report mentioned include establishing consumer rebates for electric vehicles and creating a new Department of Natural Resources web portal by June that will allow the public and community leaders to easily access local climate projection data.
Kohlasch said he can't yet mention any big new initiatives for 2021 because of the state budget process.
Jennifer Bjorhus • 612-673-4683