History: This climate action plan is a framework for how the county will pursue initiatives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and strategies to adapt to the changing climate in ways that reduce vulnerabilities and ensure a more equitable and resilient Hennepin County.
In 2007, Hennepin County adopted the Cool County Initiative (07-8-334R2), which called for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from both the geographic area of the county and from county operations from a 2005 baseline by at least 15% by 2015, 30% by 2025, and at least 80% by 2050.
In 2019, the county board directed county administration to develop a climate action framework that guided the development of plan in 2020 (Resolution 19-0158R1 S1).
The first phase of the county’s climate action plan development involved conducting research and assessing climate change impacts and greenhouse gas emissions. Key findings include:
- Climate change is caused primarily by humans burning fossil fuels, such as coal, oil, and natural gas, for energy to power buildings, fuel vehicles, and create goods. Burning fossil fuels for energy releases excess greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, most notably carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrous oxide (N2O), and methane (CH4). The buildup of excess greenhouse gases acts like a blanket that traps heat around the world, disrupting the climate.
- Greenhouse gas emissions from the energy consumed to heat and cool residential, commercial, and industrial buildings accounts for two-thirds of the emissions countywide. Emissions from vehicle travel that occurs within county boundaries accounts for one-third of countywide emissions.
- Minnesota’s climate is changing rapidly and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. The region has gotten much wetter and warmer, driven by more frequent heavy precipitation and warmer winters. Heavier and higher intensity precipitation events and warmer winters increase the frequency of flooding, landslides, freeze/thaw cycles, ice storms, and disruptions to the vital services our residents rely upon. All of these put increased strain on residents, businesses, the natural environment and county operations.
- The impacts of climate change will more acutely affect our most vulnerable residents. Like other environmental justice issues, data shows that communities of color, low income families, and residents with disabilities contribute least to the problem of climate pollution, but these residents are the most at risk from negative climate impacts.
- A functioning, stable climate serves as the foundation of life. Our health and safety, water supplies, food systems, access to healthy air, and where we can build our homes all depend on a stable climate. Climate change is the ground shifting under our feet, challenging our capacity to grow food, changing the diseases and pests we have to deal with, disrupting our communities, and threatening our health and safety.
In the research and assessment phase, staff engaged Hennepin County’s cities, watershed organizations, park districts, and other regional and state units of government to learn about their priorities for climate work and opportunities for collaboration. Staff also reached out to partner community groups that are working on climate change to gather feedback on the community engagement approach. Key findings of the research and assessment phase are described in the background section for each goal in the plan.
The second phase of the plan development was to draft goals and strategies. Staff from every line of business (55 staff representing 20 departments) were engaged in five work teams to develop goals and strategies to respond to climate change. Team leads then worked with Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion staff to apply a disparities reduction lens to their strategies.
The third phase of the plan development was to review and build support, which began with internal review of these strategies and then externally. Staff held a series of feedback sessions with community groups, youth, and the county’s Race Equity Advisory Council. An online survey was conducted with residents that received more than 2,300 responses. Staff analyzed the feedback received and revised the plan.
The draft plan was published on February 9, 2021 and feedback was gathered through March 3, 2021, through community meetings, an online comment form, and a survey for public entity partners. Anyone interested in the county’s response to climate change was encouraged to attend an online meeting or submit comments. Feedback was received from residents, representatives of community organizations and advocacy groups, and staff from state agencies, cities, and watershed districts. A summary of the findings from the public comments is posted online at www.hennepin.us/climateaction.
The primary finding was respondents sought a plan that results in meaningful action that meets the urgency of the climate crisis. Respondents and county commissioners made it clear that the county’s current greenhouse gas emission reduction goals are no longer adequate based on the global scientific consensus and sought to adopt a more aggressive goal to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050. This goal aligns with the direction being taken at the federal and state level, and the new interim goal of 45% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 is based on guidance from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The global scientific consensus is that these goals need to be adopted as a way to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, which would reduce challenging impacts on ecosystems, human health, and well-being while making it easier to achieve equitable and sustainable development.
Net zero refers to achieving net zero carbon emissions by a balance between greenhouse gas emissions produced and greenhouse gas emissions taken out of the atmosphere through emissions reductions and carbon sequestration. Planting and protecting trees, forests, and other natural ecosystems is the most effective way to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Trees and plants remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through photosynthesis and store it in soils or biomass until they die or are cut down. This plan connects the county’s work in forestry, protecting natural areas, improving soil health and developing green infrastructure. This work not only helps the county adapt to climate change, but also helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The Climate Action Plan is undergoing final edits and will be made public in advance of the discussion in the Public Works Committee on April 13, 2021. Visit www.hennepin.us/climateaction for the most current version of the plan.
Current Request: This request is to adopt the 2021 Hennepin County Climate Action Plan: strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to our changing climate in ways that reduce vulnerabilities and ensure a more equitable and resilient Hennepin County.
This request also seeks to update the county’s goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 45% from 2010 levels by 2030 and achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050 in Hennepin County operations and geographically.
Impact/outcome: This climate action plan is a framework for how the county will pursue initiatives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and strategies to adapt to the changing climate in ways that reduce vulnerabilities and ensure a more equitable and resilient Hennepin County.
The plan establishes how a climate response will be coordinated across lines of business and how reducing the impacts of climate change and creating an environmentally-friendly future will be integrated into the county’s planning and decision-making.
This plan focuses on reducing disparities and protecting residents who are most vulnerable to the impacts of a changing climate and will ensure these benefits are shared equitably by all Hennepin County residents. By engaging our communities and developing strong and diverse partnerships, we will make our strategies more creative, more ambitious, and more achievable.
Adopting this plan signals to residents, businesses, public entities, community partners, and county employees that climate change is a priority for Hennepin County. A paradigm shift is needed to enable all of us to create a better future for ourselves and generations to come. Pursuing the strategies laid out in the county’s Climate Action Plan will make our communities healthier, our buildings and transportation choices sustainable, our environment cleaner, and our communities more resilient.