Messages from the Council Chair

Planning for climate change is good stewardship

September 2023

By Charlie Zelle

This summer’s blazing temperatures and smoky skies made it difficult to ignore the fact that our climate is changing. The Twin Cities region saw 32 days above 90 degrees this year, nearly triple the average. Climate experts tell us that a warmer global temperature will put more moisture in the atmosphere and intensify weather everywhere. Rainfalls will get heavier, higher temps will intensify droughts, and storm activity will increase in both frequency and intensity.

Over the last decade, reducing our greenhouse gas emissions and preparing for more extreme weather events has emerged as one of the top priorities of the Met Council. Cities and counties across the metro area are also engaged in this work.

Tools for local governments, nonprofits

Screenshot of the online Growing Shade tool.One of the easiest things any of us can do to make our region more resilient to a warming climate is to plant a tree or water one that’s already there. That’s why the Met Council formed a partnership with the Nature Conservancy and Tree Trust to develop the Growing Shade tool. This interactive map incorporates surface temperature data, demographic information, and public health data and relates it to tree canopy. Hopkins used this tool to identify specific tracts along Excelsior Boulevard where planting and maintaining trees can make residential neighborhoods cooler and help protect people with respiratory conditions when temperatures and air quality are in the red zones.

Another tool specifically designed to help local governments is our Greenhouse Gas Strategy Planning Tool. It allows cities to see how changes in population density, building efficiency, work and commuting patterns, tree planting, and transit service can impact their carbon emissions. Tools like this allow even small townships with limited staff to make sound policy decisions based on real data.

Reducing emissions across the region

An electric bus at a charging station.Stewardship of our environment and our public resources is integral to all the work we do; it is one of our guiding principles. This year, the EPA awarded $1 million to the Met Council to develop an actionable plan for reducing regional greenhouse emissions. Later this fall, communities in our region can apply for funding to implement strategies to drive down local greenhouse gas emissions.

Transportation emissions are the greatest contributor to greenhouse gases in Minnesota, and the Met Council is investing resources and planning for the switch toward renewable energy sources. We are doing a comprehensive analysis of travel behavior across our region that will help to understand the way people use their vehicles in the context of a switch to electric vehicles. We’re working with state and local partners on planning for public electric vehicle charging stations around the region.

We’re also taking action to ensure our own operations are moving towards a goal of zero carbon emissions. We are acquiring electric buses as we work to overcome the obstacles to operating reliable EV transit vehicles in a climate where temperatures can dip to 30 below. We house large community solar gardens at two of our nine wastewater treatment plants, we rely on direct solar power at our Blue Lake plant, and our plant systems are capturing and reusing heat generated by the treatment process.

These are just a few examples of how we are trying to incorporate the principles of stewardship into everything we do. Burning less, using less, and investing wisely is the path to saving money — which is also good stewardship.

Charlie Zelle is Chair of the Metropolitan Council.