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Minnesota, other states pledged to meet Paris climate goals. Can they after U.S. withdraws?

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Highway 169
A 140-foot section of northbound Highway 169 near St. Peter, Minn., collapsed by the flooding Minnesota River in October 2010. The washed-out highway was closed north of St. Peter as MnDOT worked to restore it. A White House report on climate change, released today, pointed to the flooding as an example of what Minnesotans can expect — though with greater frequency — if climate change continues along its current trajectory.
AP/Mankato Free Press, John Cross

The United States moved to officially withdraw from the Paris Agreement this week. The 2015 United Nations agreement commits nearly 200 countries to reducing greenhouse gas emissions at a rate that will keep the global temperature from rising 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. For the U.S., that requires reducing emissions by 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025.

Many states, including Minnesota, pledged to continue the work when President Donald Trump signaled earlier in his presidency that he would pull the U.S. out of the agreement. But are their efforts enough to counter the president’s move?

“What I think is more significant are this suite of actions that the administration has taken in the last two to three years,” said Julie Cerqueira, the executive director of the U.S. Climate Alliance. “The withdrawal from Paris is significant in that it is sending a signal internationally that the U.S. federal government doesn't believe climate change is a priority. But what we're looking at domestically is an unraveling of all of our major national climate policies. 

“That, to me, is much scarier,” she said.

The U.S. Climate Alliance is a coalition of 25 governors who have committed their states to meeting their share of the U.S. greenhouse gas reduction target. Minnesota joined the alliance in 2017 under former Gov. Mark Dayton.

Cerqueira said the Trump administration’s rollback of Obama-era clean power rules and of federal car emissions standards, as well as its attack on California’s own, stricter emissions standards, is limiting states’ abilities to make good on their climate promise.

What we've seen when we look at the states that are part of our coalition is that has had a significant impact on their ability to meet both their own targets, but also the commitment they made to meet their share of the U.S. national greenhouse gas target,” she said.

While there is still hope for meeting the Paris agreement’s target, Cerqueira said Trump administration policies are more than a speed bump.   

“So the thing to keep in mind is, even if today you put back in place all of those regulations, it still takes several years for those to enter into effect, several more years before industry has picked that up and started implementing the solutions, and you actually start to see those reductions,” she said. “And so to some degree, we have already baked in the future emissions because of three years of a lack of framework.”

Cerqueira and the alliance are in the process of pinpointing just how much progress their member states have made. That report is expected to come out in December.

To hear more of Cerqueira’s conversation with CLimate Cast host and MPR Chief Meteorologist Paul Huttner, hit play on the audio player above.