Minnesota could hit its climate targets for the first time, thanks to a steep drop in greenhouse gas pollution.

Global warming emissions in the state dropped 23% from 2005 through 2020, according to the latest inventory out Tuesday. The pandemic-related economic slowdown explains part of the decline, but not all, pollution officials said. Certain sectors such as transportation were showing downward trends before COVID, they said.

The overall decline was aided by progress in the electricity sector as utilities continue to replace coal with cleaner natural gas and renewables, such as wind and solar.

If trends hold, Minnesota could record a 30% cut in emissions by 2025 from baseline levels 20 years earlier, a target the Legislature set in 2007, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Commissioner Katrina Kessler told reporters at a news conference Tuesday. The state missed earlier targets by a wide margin.

"Minnesota's work to reduce climate pollution is paying off," Kessler told reporters.

The decline mirrors the nation's over the same time frame. U.S. greenhouse gas emissions fell about 21% from 2005 though 2020. They have been forecast to rise again as the economy recovers from the pandemic shock.

Minnesotans will have to "double down," Kessler said, to meet the stepped-up target set in the state's new Climate Action Framework. The blueprint urges a range of innovations across the economy to halve greenhouse gases by 2030 and reach net-zero by 2050.

Such inventories are crucial for measuring progress toward slashing the heat-trapping greenhouse gases fueling the climate crisis and weather extremes battering the globe. In Minnesota, the overall decline in greenhouse gases occurred even as the state's population and economy grew, with gross state product up since 2005.

Transportation remains the state's No. 1 source of climate pollution, even though emissions declined 18% since 2005.

The bigger surprise is that with the successes in power generation, the combined agriculture, forestry and land use sector became the state's No. 2 source of greenhouse gases. Forests and grasslands are a sink that absorb and store carbon and offset emissions from farming. Overall, the sector's emissions were flat.

Yet concerning trends emerged, the regulator noted. Methane from livestock and manure has risen 10% since 2005, and nitrous oxide from row crops, which comes from fertilizer and the breakdown of crop residue, among other things, grew 9%.

"Growing climate-smart farms, forests and grasslands are key to reducing our overall climate impacts and getting us to the net zero emission goal as a state," Kessler said. "Climate pollution from growing crops and raising animals continues to rise while farmers continue to bear the brunt of extreme weather and a changing climate."

Todd County dairy farmer Pat Lunemann attested to that at the news conference, outlining a list of troubles in recent years. Last fall's drought was so bad that cover crops, needed to protect the soil after harvest, had trouble germinating due to lack of water. He said farmers need to ensure they have the tools to deal with climate extremes.

Climate pollution from the industrial sector increased 14%, according to the inventory, even as companies switch from coal to natural gas.

Although the residential sector is much smaller, heating, cooling and running appliances drove its greenhouse gas emissions up 14%. Natural gas is the biggest culprit.

Richard Graves, director of the University of Minnesota's Center for Sustainable Building Research, told reporters that buildings across the state need to be retrofitted and built for energy efficiency, with better heating and cooling equipment.

"Most of this technology exists today and just needs to be scaled up," Graves said.

Graves said in an interview that he was referring to using heat pumps to replace natural gas systems. He called them "the single most important technology advancement for mechanical systems in buildings."

Graves said that every architect graduating from the university knows how to design a carbon neutral building, but true progress will come when all developers, contractors and electricians have the same base of knowledge to meet climate goals.

The MPCA submitted the new greenhouse gas inventory to the Legislature, where the regulator has made a two-year budget request for about $440 million, about half of which would be for climate-related work.

Altogether, Gov. Tim Walz has asked for roughly $1 billion for initiatives proposed by the interagency Climate Change Subcabinet. That amount includes bonding requests, as well as the MPCA's climate funding.