State of Minnesota plans for changing climate

Contact: Risikat Adesaogun, 651-757-2056

A new report by the Interagency Climate Adaptation Team (ICAT), a group of Minnesota state agencies focused on adapting to the changes, says the effects of climate change, from heavier rainfall events to changing ecosystems, will be significant and far-reaching in Minnesota. 

“Addressing climate change will be good for our health, our environment, and our economy. This new report underscores the importance of ensuring Minnesota is climate resilient by implementing changes like weatherizing our buildings and improving run-off control,” said Lt. Governor Tina Smith. “Next session, I urge the Legislature to adopt the bipartisan ‘50 by 30’ renewable energy standard proposed earlier this year. It will create new jobs and reduce greenhouse emissions in our state.”

“Minnesota’s climate is changing at a rate faster than global and national averages,” said Will Seuffert, executive director of the Minnesota Environmental Quality Board (EQB), which plays a lead role in ICAT’s work. “This has very real consequences for communities and businesses in all corners of the state. Already we are seeing innovative measures to adapt, and state agencies are collaborating to support these efforts. But we’ll need to do much more at all levels if we want to preserve our state’s, precious natural resources, economic vitality and quality of life.”  

Climate adaptation will be a major theme of the EQB’s meeting on June 14 in Waseca, Minn.  Waseca was the site of heavy flooding in September 2016 which caused significant damage in the community.

ICAT’s new report, Adapting to climate change in Minnesota, calls out many climate change related developments.  Among the report’s take-aways:

  • For several decades Minnesota has seen substantial warming during winter and at night, with increased precipitation throughout the year, particularly from larger and more frequent rainstorms.  These two effects will continue to be the state’s leading symptoms of climate change.
  • These changes have damaged buildings and infrastructure, limited recreational opportunities, changed our growing seasons, and affected the quality of our lakes, rivers and drinking water.  
  • These and other climate-related trends are accelerating.  
  • Due to climate change, Minnesota will experience warmer winters, more days with severe heat and longer-lasting heat waves, and increasingly heavy and more frequent rainstorms.

The report highlights measures that state government is taking to adapt, such as increasing weatherization of homes and buildings, “greening” infrastructure with trees and landscaping to improve runoff control, assessing roads and bridges to identify those most vulnerable to damage, and restoring wetlands to buffer flooding. 

The aim of these measures is to build resiliency into the state’s critical systems. “Climate change is bringing serious effects that we’ll have to live with,” said David Thornton, assistant commissioner of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, a founding agency of the team. “Building resilience is about making the systems that support our health and economy more prepared for these challenges.”

“ICAT brings together the planners from all the state’s agencies responsible for coping with the changes that are already happening, as well as those we have yet to see but we know are coming,” Thornton added.

Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Ed Ehlinger noted that the health effects of climate change fall disproportionately on the state’s most vulnerable people.  “Minnesota’s changing climate will affect the health of all of us, but we know that those with the fewest resources and those most vulnerable — physically, geographically, economically, socially — will be hit the hardest. We need to step up our efforts to build resiliency and protect the most vulnerable in our communities all across the state,” he said.

While the team focuses on adapting to climate change, the report acknowledges that without serious attempts to also slow the pace of change, humans and natural systems will find it increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to adapt. In many cases, adaptation measures also can help reduce the rate of change. For example, increasing tree cover provides resilience to higher heat by providing cooling shade, while at the same reducing energy use for air conditioning. And improving water conservation builds resilience to drought by reducing use of groundwater and surface water, while also reducing energy used to purify and transport water.

Seuffert said ICAT recognizes that state government can’t make Minnesota ready for all the effects of a changing climate on its own. Partnerships and collaboration are needed at all levels across the spectrum. “The climate is changing and it’s going to continue to change in ways we can’t yet foresee. We’re going to need all hands on deck,” he said.