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More effective policies needed to avoid carbon pollution impacts in Minnesota and beyond

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Jacob Herbers
Last month, every country came together for the COP24 United Nations Climate Negotiations to finalize the Paris Agreement’s rulebook. Thirty-plus Minnesotans were there observing the process; we learned a great deal. Most observers seemed to agree that the compromises reached were more ambitious than expected. However, they are still not nearly enough to limit global warming to 1.5º C, which is necessary to avoid devastating climate impacts in many areas.

These impacts are detailed in the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, which identifies necessary targets of 45 percent global CO2 emissions reductions by 2030 relative to 2010, and net-zero by 2050. At COP24, the U.S. teamed with Russia and Saudi Arabia to block language welcoming the IPCC Report. This contributed to the lack of sufficient ambition. They were opposed by developing countries that will suffer the worst impacts, including increased deaths, and losses of entire islands. Developed countries are morally obligated to take action to ensure that climate change does not exacerbate global inequities.

It’s already happening

This is most certainly not just a problem that will affect distant countries in the distant future. Climate change is already happening in every corner of the world, including Minnesota. We will continue to experience more extreme weather events as a result of carbon emissions originating in Minnesota and elsewhere.

In August 2007, seven southeast Minnesota counties were declared federal disaster areas as a state record 15 inches of rain fell in 24 hours. Seven died, and many lives were significantly disrupted, especially those living in poverty. Hundreds of buildings were destroyed, along with significant infrastructure damage. Economic losses exceeded $200 million.

In August 2018, an air quality alert was issued for all 87 counties as wildfire smoke, industrial and vehicle emissions, and high temperatures caused significant ozone and particulate air pollution statewide. The health of thousands of Minnesotans was put at risk. Those with breathing conditions, the elderly, pregnant people, and impoverished communities are especially vulnerable.

Not on track

The 2007 Minnesota Next Generation Energy policies established America’s most assertive Renewable Energy Standard, catalyzed energy efficiency, and set emissions reduction goals. However, we are not on track to meet those goals, according to a new Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) report. Minnesota should retake its place as a national leader on energy and environmental issues by enacting more ambitious and equitable policies.

The Minnesota State Investment board should completely divest from fossil fuels. This would be a win-win by withdrawing support from environmentally harmful practices, and maintaining more financially sustainable funds in the long term for Minnesotans that depend on them. Similarly, fossil fuel infrastructure projects should not be supported.

Minnesota should also continue to transition its fleets to electric vehicles, and build out charging infrastructure. Furthermore, the long-stagnant gas tax should be increased, and tied to inflation. Revenue should be used to make our transportation system safer, healthier and more efficient. Per the MPCA, transportation now causes more emissions than any other sector.

Look to goals set by California, Hawaii and Xcel

Recently, California joined Hawaii in setting an ambitious goal of carbon neutrality by 2045, and Xcel Energy announced a goal of 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2050. Minnesota should join their leadership mantle by enacting a similar target. The proposed “50 by ‘30” legislation would continue the momentum from the Minnesota Next Generation Energy Act.

Without federal climate leadership, states should consider enacting a revenue-neutral carbon fee to achieve their decarbonization goals. This would protect the environment by motivating emissions reductions, and funds collected would be returned to the hardworking taxpayers of Minnesota. Funds could also be directed toward green infrastructure projects. It is critical that these policies benefit those who suffer most from environmental pollution. In Minnesota this is disproportionately communities of color and indigenous communities.

Economical and equitable policies like these would significantly benefit Minnesotans, and the planet. Climate change does not stop at borders, it affects everyone. Every action — big or small — moves us closer (or further) from a cleaner environment. This includes international agreements, national, state, and local policies, and actions by businesses, nonprofits, and activist groups. It also includes personal action. We can all take direct action to reduce and minimize our own personal environmental impacts, while simultaneously advocating for systemic changes. Every action matters.

Jacob Herbers was the University of Minnesota Delegation Lead to the COP24 United Nations Climate Negotiations in Katowice, Poland.

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Comments (7)

  1. Submitted by Bob Barnes on 01/22/2019 - 08:40 am.

    I had to stop at the headline…carbon isn’t pollution. It’s required by plants which in turn supply the oxygen we need. It was warmer in medieval times long before humans were burning fossil fuels. We are only responsible for roughly 5% of the CO2 in the atmosphere. 5% of 0.04% isn’t even enough to be considered a rounding error. Termites produce more CO2 than humans.

    • Submitted by Jan Freed on 01/22/2019 - 10:06 am.

      Google ‘evidence CO2 is cause of climate change’.

      It’s been known since late 19th Ce, that too much would raise global temperatures. How about 1 trillion tons, what has been spewed by our use of fossil fuels.?

    • Submitted by Jacob Herbers on 01/22/2019 - 09:18 pm.

      Hi Bob, first of all just because carbon is required by plants doesn’t mean that there isn’t too much in the atmosphere. We all know what photosynthesis is, but please cite sources for your other claims and numbers.

  2. Submitted by Jan Freed on 01/22/2019 - 10:03 am.

    To limit climate change there are at this time strong policies awaiting action in Congress. HR 7173 proposes a per ton carbon fee and dividend. Dividend Checks in all mailboxes would avoid the pinch of higher prices.

    Targets achieved are close to iPCC targets. Noble Laureates say , ‘this is the best way’. We need responsible leaders in Congress and the White HOuse for this to happen. Let’s do it.

  3. Submitted by Kent Fralish on 01/22/2019 - 12:42 pm.

    And not one single word about the biggest issue, reducing population.

    • Submitted by Jacob Herbers on 01/22/2019 - 08:52 pm.

      Thanks for bringing that up Kent. Do you have any suggestions on how to discuss that without alienating people? Or any suggestions on what the MN govt. could do about it? I think improving the education system would help.

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