With the sound of plows and shovels, it’s official—it’s winter in Minnesota.
Lately, this has come to mean that conversations about whether climate change is real (how can it be warming when it’s so cold?!) will be coming along with Arctic blasts and blizzards. Last January, I was scheduled to give a talk on climate change, which was postponed due to extreme cold temperatures of -50 degrees. Yet, Minnesota’s winters are warming 13 times faster than its summers—making it one of the fastest warming states in the nation—and with that means more disruption of polar air masses, slower-moving jet streams, more ice on the roads, less ice on lakes, more frequent and extreme snowstorms like the one we had last week, and more need for artificial snow to support winter time recreation.
While acceptance of anthropogenic climate change has increased in recent years, the involvement of the federal government of the United States in climate policy has not only decreased, but decidedly shifted in the other direction by weakening environmental protections and backtracking on policies designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
In 2016, I attended COP22 in Marrakech, arriving just days after then-candidate Donald Trump was elected. We—our delegation and the rest of the world—didn’t know fully what a Trump presidency would mean for the climate, but we knew that pulling out of the Paris Agreement was a campaign promise and that Trump’s “America First” approach would likely result in many of the changes to environmental and other policies that have since come to pass.
I wasn’t sure of how we would be received at COP22, and was admittedly a bit surprised by the overwhelmingly hopeful response of the global community. Countries were doubling down on their commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. U.S. state governments and city mayors stepped up to lead where their country would not. Businesses and utilities also publicly declared they would keep moving forward with decarbonizing and finding other ways to reduce their climate impact. In short, there was a strong sense of shared resolve to do what it takes to avoid further destructive and irreversible effects of climate change.
Last week, I was listening to MPR when I heard about the U.N.’s Emissions Gap Report, detailing what needs to be done to stop warming from surpassing 1.5 degrees Celsius. The findings were, in a word, bleak. The report’s authors stated that, “There is no sign of emissions peaking in the next few years”.
As we get ready to go to COP25, the authors are urging for a ratcheting up of ambition, calling for deeper and faster cuts to emissions (3-5 times greater than existing commitments) — especially among the world’s richest countries. With U.S. leadership in the final stages of withdrawing from the Paris Agreement, I can’t help but think about what these more ambitious goals will require, and I am hopeful for a continuation of that shared resolve I witnessed in 2016—among non-federal actors in the U.S. and countries across the world. I am eager to see how these conversations play out.
Additionally, I will personally be focusing on learning more about mid-continent challenges and opportunities to increase resilience to climate impacts, especially as they relate to freshwater resources. Minnesota’s identity is intertwined with our lakes. We’re also the headwaters of three major watersheds, and 98% of the water in our rivers and streams starts here.
Our cities may not be threatened by sea level rise, but flooding, dangerously high heat, and other impacts are already being felt. We need to prepare for the twin pressures of increased population (including from climate change-induced migration) and climate change, and COP25 will serve as an opportunity to learn more from others, share what we’re working on, and build new partnerships and collaborations. I’m looking forward to going to COP25, and excited to carry lessons learned and renewed momentum back to Minnesota.