Local leaders and environmentalists are applauding the Paris climate deal signed by nearly 200 nations Saturday, but acknowledge the massive and daunting workload ahead to confront the threats of climate change.
U.S. Sen. Al Franken, a Democrat who lives in the Elliot Park neighborhood, was among 10 senators representing the United States at the Paris climate summit.
He said the deal opens up new opportunities for clean energy production in Minnesota and other states.
“The agreement in Paris puts the planet on a safer trajectory than the one we have been on. But we have to remain vigilant and build on that success,” he said during a speech on the Senate floor Wednesday. “Internationally, we have to hold other nations accountable, ensure that they commit to stronger emission reduction targets over time, and to make sure that those reductions are transparent and verifiable. Domestically, we have to build on the success of our cities and states, and we have to work to make sure that the Clean Power Plan and other emission reduction policies are effective.”
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency finalized the Clean Power Plan on Aug. 3, which requires states to meet targets for reducing carbon emissions from power plants beginning in 2022. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has started laying the groundwork to develop the state’s Clean Power Plan. Initial plans must be submitted to the EPA by Sept. 6, 2016.
Clean energy advocates have said the plan could double the number of clean energy jobs in Minnesota in the next 15 years. Currently that state has more than 15,000 clean energy jobs.
As part of the Paris climate pact, governments have agreed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to keep the global average temperature to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels — a target scientists say will likely reduce the risk of the most serious effects of climate change.
Countries that have signed onto the deal are also required to report progress updates on reducing emissions every five years, starting in 2023.
Congressman Keith Ellison, a Democrat from Minneapolis, called the United Nations climate pact “one of the most important agreements in human history.”
“The Paris climate deal gives us a fighting chance to protect our way of life against the worst impacts of climate change. Congratulations to all the leaders who negotiated this deal and to the activists around the world fighting for this cause. Just a few years ago, this agreement seemed impossible. Your work has made a historic difference,” he said. “While the Paris agreement is cause for celebration, we have a lot of work to do to reach these goals. Let’s get started.”
Ellison and Rep. Raul M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.), co-chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, introduced a House resolution Nov. 30 calling for 50 percent of the nation’s electricity to come from renewable sources by 2030 and 100 percent by 2050.
Mayor Betsy Hodges, who joined other mayors from the around the world at the Vatican for a two-day summit on climate change and human trafficking in July, said Pope Francis told them that “cities have the power to lead in the fight against climate change.”
“The agreement’s ultimate success will depend on local leadership,” she wrote in a post on her Facebook page. “This summer, I was proud to join the Mayors National Climate Action Agenda. Collectively we represent more than 27 million Americans, a mayor-to-mayor initiative that offers a collaborative forum to share best practices and build political will across the nation. We are committed to bringing technical innovation, lower utility bills and new green jobs to the residents of our cities.”
Minneapolis’ Climate Action Plan calls for an 80 percent reduction in citywide greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
State Rep. Frank Hornstein (DFL-61A), a Linden Hills resident, said he will be pushing for several things during the upcoming legislative agenda to address climate issues, including “proper state-level implementation” of the federal Clean Power Plan; a metro sales tax to fund transportation improvements; increasing the state’s renewable energy standard and placing a price on carbon through a fee-and-dividend system, among other things.
Hornstein is also focused on reducing waste, especially organics.
“The downtown garbage burner and area landfills are significant sources of greenhouse gas emissions. Reducing the waste we generate, increasing recycling, and composting of organics, especially food waste, are central to a strategy to act locally on climate issues,” he said. “Community solar projects, such as the one recently implemented by Linden Hills Power and Light play a vital role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”
South Minneapolis-based Climate Generation also has an ambitious agenda for 2016.
The organization sent a delegation of 10 education ambassadors to the climate talks for its Window into Paris program. They updated their students on the negotiations via webinars and daily blogs.
As for next year, Nicole Rom, executive director of Climate Generation, said the organization will focus on pushing for a strong Clean Power Plan for Minnesota, continuing its work on climate education and working with youth leaders throughout the state on climate projects.
“[The Paris deal] gives a global signal that we need to take action and it requires us to get to work,” she said. “We’re heeding the call for addressing the actions that will get us to the agreement that was made in Paris.”
Climate Generation held a post-Paris panel discussion Wednesday at the University of Minnesota with several people who attended the climate talks.
Former state legislator Kate Knuth, who runs the Boreas Environmental Leadership Program at the University of Minnesota, was one of the panelists. She was in the hall when the Paris agreement was adopted.
“There was a huge amount of hope in the room,” Knuth said of the emotional moment.
She said French diplomats were “masterful” during the negotiations. “We are all in debt to them,” she said.
Knuth also credited the growing global climate movement led by groups like 350.org with pushing the issue to the forefront.
Paul Thompson and Mindy Ahler, co-directors of Cool Planet, a local group focused on climate solutions, also traveled to Paris as part of the Citizens’ Voice media team with the Pathway to Paris coalition — a project from Citizens’ Climate Lobby and Citizens’ Climate Education.
“It is quite inspiring meeting men, women and youth from over 195 countries most of whom are doing amazing things in building this new sustainable infrastructure,” Thompson said. “The bright side of this is the economic opportunity that this transition away from the fossil fuel era provides for all of us. Discussions about ‘pricing carbon’ were happening everywhere in the business roundtables, the side events on public health, ocean issues, agriculture changes and indigenous rights of first nations people. … The youth were everywhere as this is the issue that will and does define their future.”
Report from COP21: The Paris Climate Talks
What: Paul Thompson and Mindy Ahler of Cool Planet along with many other Minnesotans who attended the climate talks will discuss the summit and what’s next for Minnesota.
When: Friday, Jan. 8, 6:30–8:30 p.m.
Where: Linden Hills Park, multipurpose room, 3100 W. 43rd St.