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.
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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