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Dire U.N. climate report demands that Minnesota and Congress be bold

Act this year to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and transition to clean electricity.

Firefighters battling the Greenwood Fire in Superior National Forest.
Firefighters battling the Greenwood Fire in Superior National Forest.
U.S. Forest Service - Superior National Forest

Earlier this month the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)  released its latest report on climate change, describing in terrifying detail its intensifying effects. The report reaffirms what by now ought to be obvious to all: Greenhouse emissions from human activity are responsible for the overall warming of the global temperature. It also makes clear that in order to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, leaders around the world must act now to reduce emissions quickly.

The IPCC report’s findings make clear the urgency of passing meaningful climate legislation, in Minnesota and nationwide, in 2021. We need Congress to pass bold policy that rapidly transitions our country to an equitable clean energy economy. And we need Minnesota’s congressional delegation to vote for and be vocal champions for bold climate policy.

One example is the Clean Electricity Standard (CES), also referred to as the Clean Electricity Payment Program, which would require electric utilities to produce a set amount of emissions-free power. The main goal of the standard would be to generate 80 percent of clean energy by 2030 and 100 percent by 2035. Minnesota’s own Sen. Tina Smith has been the primary champion of this legislation in the Senate and is working to ensure that it is included in the reconciliation package currently being considered by Congress.

While ambitious and a clear step in the right direction, the CES is not without its flaws — mainly the allowance of carbon capture and storage (CSS). In the past year energy companies and industrial sectors have been pushing to support technology that would funnel billions of dollars toward corporate polluters but would do little to reduce greenhouse emissions. Carbon capture technology is extremely costly, and its effectiveness is still unproven. In order to decarbonize our economy, our focus needs to be on transitioning to affordable and proven forms of renewable energy, such as solar and wind instead of gambling on carbon capture.

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While decarbonizing the energy sector is a step in the right direction, it is important that we take additional steps along with adopting a Clean Electricity Standard. There’s a clear need to establish tax credits for renewable energy investments and production, fund clean transportation, and invest in environmental justice communities. Without these efforts, we’ll fail to decarbonize our economy at the speed necessary to avoid the worst of climate change.

Sam Benson
Sam Benson
The Biden administration has promised to lead on environmental justice funding through its Justice40 initiative. This initiative sets a goal of 40 percent of funding for climate initiatives to go to disadvantaged communities. As Congress negotiates the details of the budget agreement, the Justice40 commitment needs to be prioritized and followed through on in order to ensure that our transition to a clean energy future does not further exacerbate racial and economic disparities.

As Congress continues to debate the infrastructure package, the reconciliation package and its 2022 budget, we urge Minnesota’s congressional delegation to support bold climate solutions, including a Clean Electricity Standard and help our country transition to a more sustainable future.

Sam Benson is a policy organizer for Minnesota Interfaith Power & Light. He lives in Minneapolis.

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