Three Minnesota Cities Taking Climate Action

Climate science clearly indicates that economy wide decarbonization by mid-century is crucial for our planet to avoid the worst-case-scenario global warming outcomes. Fresh Energy’s policy and advocacy work is driven by data such as this as we work to shape bold policy solutions to achieve equitable carbon-neutral economies.

We know that responses to the threat of climate change are needed from all levels – global coordination, federal governments, regional organizations, the private sector, and individuals. Cities also have the power play a crucial role in reducing greenhouse gases, as globally, they are responsible for about 75% of climate change-causing emissions. The majority of emissions in most cities, including those in Minnesota, come from a combination of buildings and transportation.

While Minneapolis and Saint Paul were recently ranked the fourth and sixteenth most energy efficient cities, respectively, nationwide, we are excited to share that bold climate action is not limited to the Twin Cities Metro Area. Municipalities across the state are stepping up to act on climate change. Each of the cities below is also part of Minnesota GreenStep Cities, a voluntary program helping cities achieve their sustainability and quality-of-life goals.

Red Wing

Located about 50 miles southeast of the Twin Cities on the shore of the Mississippi River, this city of about 16,400 residents is taking action on climate.

On October 26, 2020, the Red Wing City Council unanimously voted to adopt a resolution urging the U.S. Congress to pass legislation that puts a price on carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is something economists consider an “externality”—there is no additional cost to create carbon dioxide pollution and release it into the atmosphere. However, carbon dioxide emissions cause climate change, which leads to monetary costs for the general public. In this way, large emitting corporations receive huge public subsidies because citizens and governments are stuck with the tab of paying for climate change damages such as flooding associated with more intense rain events, damage to crops from extreme weather such as drought, healthcare costs, as well as species extinction and loss of human life.

Carbon pricing is a policy that seeks to remedy the disconnect between those who benefit from being able to emit carbon dioxide for free (polluters) and those who end up paying the price (everybody else, especially historically marginalized communities). The Red Wing City Council, through their resolution, urged Congress to adopt a strong carbon pricing policy.

Additionally, the city adopted a Climate Action Work Plan in August 2020. The five-year work plan was developed by the Red Wing Sustainability Commission with help from Great Plains Institute to provide a short-term roadmap for helping Red Wing achieve its goal to reduce citywide greenhouse gas emissions by eighty percent – compared to 2015 levels – on or before 2040. The strategies include tackling emissions from buildings through energy efficiency, fuel switching from gas to electric, and renewable energy initiatives including adopting a commercial benchmarking policy.

Red Wing is also working to draw down transportation emissions by aiming to increase electric vehicle adoption and reduce annual vehicle miles traveled in fossil fuel-burning vehicles. They also aim to increase renewable energy adoption by adding 2.5 megawatts of solar and increasing green power purchasing by five percent.

Finally, Red Wing aims to reduce the amount of waste from their community that is burned in a waste-to-energy incinerator by five percent. Each goal is accompanied by several actions the city plans to take over the next five years.

Fresh Energy is pleased to see Red Wing taking in-depth, measurable actions to reduce emissions across several sectors.

Morris

The town of Morris in west central Minnesota has ambitious sustainability goals, and takes a uniquely collaborative and award-winning approach. The Morris Model is a coalition of the City of Morris, Stevens County, and – based out of the University of Minnesota Morris – Center for Small Towns Collaboration, West Central Research and Outreach Center, and the Office of Sustainability. The group works to advance common goals of community resilience and sustainability in Morris and West-Central Minnesota. These goals focus on energy conservation, clean energy, community resilience, cultural exchange, and celebration.

In 2018, the Morris Model Sustainability Strategic Plan was developed with the input of more than 30 community leaders representing business, public schools, UMN Morris, electric utilities, and city and county government. The “Big 3” goals that were put forward in the plan include: producing 80 percent of the energy consumed in the county by 2030; reducing energy consumption by 30 percent by 2030; and keeping100 percent of waste generated within the county out of landfills by 2025. The strategic plan was then adopted not only by the City of Morris, but also by Stevens County, the school district, and UMN Morris, and is currently being implemented.

The City of Morris also participates in the Climate Smart Municipalities partnership, which establishes a sister-city relationship with Saerbeck, Germany – a town similar to Morris in many ways. Through this program, community members share experiences, ideas, and technical expertise to support each other in their climate goals.

Notably, this summer UMN Morris achieved carbon neutrality on its electricity supply, and has a plan to reach carbon neutrality campus-wide.

At Fresh Energy, we know the value of collaboration, as we work with a wide range of partner organizations across all of our programs. The Morris Model of collaboration, expertise sharing, and communication is the creative problem-solving that is required of all of us in this critical moment.

Duluth

In 2019, a Harvard professor proclaimed Duluth was one of the American cities most resilient to a changing climate. Located along the shore of Lake Superior, whether or not it is the future home of climate migrants, Duluth is playing an important role in mitigating greenhouse gas emissions. Despite federal actions towards withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement over the last four years, Duluth has committed to meeting the Paris Agreement standards: reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050 (based on 2008 levels). The city aims to accomplish this through energy conservation, renewable energy implementation, adapting infrastructure for a changing climate, and supporting multi-modal transportation. In January 2020, Duluth hired their first sustainability officer, to lead on these issues. Mayor Emily Larson is also part of Climate Mayors, a bi-partisan network of U.S. mayors committed to climate action.

Additionally, the Port of Duluth plays a critical role in the clean energy economy of the Midwest. This year, the port is on track to receive 525,000 freight tons of wind turbine parts, trouncing its previous record for wind energy cargo of 306,000 tons, set in 2019. These shipments serve the growing wind energy sector, which is on pace for record growth in the U.S. for 2020.

Major transitions require a change from the status quo, which can induce anxiety and fear. However, in the transition to a clean energy economy, it is critical to recognize that this is a move away from dirty, polluting technologies that harm people and the planet, towards cleaner, healthier options that will save people money and create new jobs. Fresh Energy applauds Duluth for embracing the changes that are necessary for investing in a future that is carbon-free.

These are just three examples of ambitious city-driven climate actions taking place right here in Minnesota. Cities like Red Wing, Morris, and Duluth are helping pave the way for major climate progress in our state. We must all play a part in pushing Minnesota along the path to achieving a 100 percent clean energy economy and net-zero emissions by 2050, or sooner. Fresh Energy is here to support city and state-level leaders, policy makers, and all Minnesotans to take action on carbon reductions and energy equity. Is your town taking climate action? Email info@fresh-energy.org to let us know!

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