Melissa Hortman is a member of Climate Generation’s Window Into COP23 program, a multi-sector delegation attending the United Nation Framework on Climate Change Convention’s 23rd Conference of the Parties (COP) in Bonn, Germany. Our delegates will observe sessions and interact with climate change policy negotiations across international leaders and stakeholders.
Melissa Hortman, J.D., is a seventh term legislator in the Minnesota House of Representatives. She represents a part of Minneapolis’s northwest suburbs, including parts of Brooklyn Park and Coon Rapids. She serves as a Minority Leader. As a legislator, she has focused on energy, transportation, the environment, and civil law. Representative Hortman chaired the House Energy Committee from 2013 to 2014 and chief-authored legislation that created Minnesota’s solar energy standard and authorized community solar gardens in the state. The bill was signed into law in 2013. She serves on Rules and Legislative Administration committee. Hortman holds a B.A. from Boston University and a J.D. from the University of Minnesota Law School.
How does climate change affect your community sector?
Minnesota stands to lose a lot from unmitigated climate change. We undoubtedly will incur continuing costs recovering from natural disasters. During my time in the legislature, we already have had several special sessions to provide millions of dollars for recovery from damages caused by floods, droughts, and severe storms. We can expect state taxpayers to continue to face these costs.
Worse, we will see a change in our native tree and crop species. This will adversely impact our forestry and agriculture sectors. We are an economy that has long been powered by the cereal grains we grow here – yet the future of wheat crops in the state, for example, are threatened.
But beyond the economic costs, Minnesotans will watch our state change. It is hard to put a value on the loss of plants and animals that used to prosper in our northern climate, which will continue to migrate northward. The crops we grow here and the trees that fill our forests have help defined Minnesota for those of us who call it home.
Minnesotans have a huge incentive to act on climate. Each state and province in the world can do a lot – and many, like Minnesota, are taking effective actions already.
How can the state government sector contribute to climate change solutions and help us uphold our commitment to the Paris Agreement?
There are many important things state government can and should do to prevent worsening climate change and to adapt to the changes that are already destined to occur. The three that make the most sense to me, because they count as “no regrets” policies that would help us all, even if there was no such thing as climate change, are: (1) adopting standards for more efficient vehicles, (2) adopting standards for more efficient appliances, and (3) adopting building codes that keep energy costs low for houses and businesses.
Why are you excited to attend COP23? What are you most looking forward to?
I’m looking forward to attending COP23 to tell Minnesota’s success stories. Minnesota is a national leader in taking climate action. We’ve dramatically reduced carbon pollution and created thousands of high-paying good jobs in clean energy at the same time. I’m also looking forward to learning what policies have worked in other jurisdictions that we can try here. I will be among state leaders from several states in the U.S. Climate Alliance attending COP23, so I will learn as much as I can from other U.S. states. I will also be seeking out provincial and state leaders from around the world. There are levers of policy we can move at this level of government that aren’t available to cities or federal governments – renewable energy standards have been transformative, for example – and those areas are where I will focus my inquiries.
What change or progress do you hope comes from the conference, whether that’s personally or politically?
It is critically important for the rest of the world to know that Americans are still committed to acting on climate – despite a current lack of federal leadership. I remember being so disappointed that the U.S. did not ratify the Kyoto Protocol. Yet, the U.S. federal government’s lack of leadership unleashed a powerful alliance of cities – starting in the U.S. and growing to around the world – that banded together to say they were going to meet the Kyoto targets. Much in the same way, this moment calls for state leaders in the U.S. and around the world to say, “we are still in,” and that we plan to take action to meet the goals outlined in the Paris Agreement.
Before the election turned out the way it did, I had planned to work with other state leaders to help the U.S. ratchet up our ambition in our country’s Paris pledge by tapping state policies for more carbon reductions. I’m still committed to the same objective.
Where is your favorite place to be outdoors in Minnesota?
I’m lucky to represent a part of the Mississippi River; it runs through Brooklyn Park and Coon Rapids, two cities I represent. I love to spend time walking the trails along the Mississippi River or biking the full loop from the 610 bridge to the Coon Rapids Dam. It’s especially beautiful with the leaves changing color. This fall, I planted 23 trees in my backyard to help offset my family’s carbon emissions. For the past few weeks, my favorite place outdoors in Minnesota is watering the trees in my yard and thinking about the forest they will become.
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