In a time of budget surplus, lawmakers should not overlook a natural solution to climate change
Cattle are grazing a cover crop field, which helps soil health. Photo courtesy of Grant and Dawn Breitkreutz. The authors argue that nature's own solutions to climate change, like better land management, can be a win-win.
Minnesotans face the reality of climate change every day, like more intense rainstorms, hotter heat waves and protracted droughts. Its consequences are showing up in our communities in the form of massive flooding, catastrophic wildfires and instability for farmers, putting Minnesota’s food supply and economy at risk. Our people, wildlife, lands and waters demand action.
Climate change threatens the quintessential characteristics of the Minnesota that we love. A 2022 University of Minnesota study found that average winter low temperatures are already 7 degrees Fahrenheit warmer in much of the state than they were at the beginning of the 20th Century, and we could lose 60 days of snow cover by the year 2100. A 2019 report from the National Audubon Society tells us that the common loon could lose most of its breeding range in the state over the next 50 years if we fail to act now.
While the world has seen natural shifts in temperature and climate before, those changes occurred over tens of thousands of years — much different from the pace of change we have seen in modern times. Today’s escalating climate threat is primarily the result of a few hundred years of human activity, which has added unprecedented amounts of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere while hampering natural mitigation within our lands and waters.
We need to change Minnesota’s climate trajectory now. With a new Legislature about to convene, leaders have indicated they’re ready to take climate action, and the state revenue forecast released Dec. 6 showed a $17.6 billion surplus — adequate funding to support a bold vision. As they set their climate ambitions for 2023, we want to make sure policymakers include key investments in nature as an effective way to address climate change.
Natural climate solutions are conservation, restoration and improved land management actions that increase carbon storage or avoid greenhouse gas emissions. Minnesota’s prairies, wetlands, peatlands, forests and farmlands all store an immense amount of carbon in plants and in the soil. These natural and working lands have the potential to sequester enough carbon to achieve one-third of Minnesota’s goal to cut emissions in half by 2030, according to 2021 report from The Nature Conservancy.
Implementing these solutions at home would help Minnesota contribute to our national climate goals. A 2021 report from the National Audubon Society predicts that natural climate solutions could deliver up to 23% of the U.S. commitment to draw down greenhouse gas emissions in the 2016 Paris Agreement. With such significant mitigation potential, why is nature often missing from the conversation about investing in climate solutions?
Nature is not a powerless bystander in the face of climate change, yet the climate solutions that attract the most attention focus on industry, like reducing our transportation emissions or transitioning to clean energy production. Although these solutions are essential, we will never reach our climate goals without recognizing nature as a solution and making ambitious investments to ensure our lands and waters are healthy and resilient. Investing in natural climate solutions stores carbon while providing clean water, habitat for wildlife and recreation opportunities for Minnesotans.
The latest state revenue forecast shows unprecedented surplus funding. Negotiations during last session showed that critical, long-term investments in natural climate solutions like planting trees and sowing cover crops receive bipartisan support. These are tangible, cost-effective strategies that can be immediately implemented.
State spending on the environment has been chronically underfunded for decades, with less than 3% of the state budget going to the environment, and often significantly less. Continuing to rely merely on dedicated funds — like the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment or the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund — to invest in nature is not enough to address climate change. Minnesota must make ambitious, long-term investments through bonding and the general fund.
Gov. Tim Walz’s administration released a Climate Action Framework in 2022, outlining a vision for tackling climate change. The framework includes natural and working lands as a priority area for climate action, but it lacks an accompanying funding proposal.
Minnesota needs an ambitious, holistic plan to tackle climate change — and that must include an investment in natural climate solutions. With a historic budget surplus, we hope lawmakers will not overlook natural climate solutions and make the most of this opportunity to boldly act on climate.
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