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Nov 18, 2022

Minnesota's Climate Action Framework: what you need to know

The Climate Action Framework, released by Governor Tim Walz in September, is an important foundation for Minnesota to meaningfully tackle climate change. It includes ambitious goals that would dramatically reduce carbon pollution - if they are fully implemented. 

With election results re-electing Governor Walz and changing control of the Minnesota Legislature, divided government no longer prevents bold climate action. Now it will be up to the Governor, House Speaker Melissa Hortman and Senate Majority Leader Kari Dziedzic to steer Minnesota’s implementation of these goals. 

MCEA has been tracking the development of this framework and MCEA staff were involved in several of the working groups that developed these recommendations. Throughout this process, we’ve focused on three questions:

  1. Are the targets appropriate? In other words, do they follow best available science?
  2. Is the framework equitable? In other words, do the communities that are most affected by climate change have a say and do changes bring benefits to these communities?
  3. Does the framework cover all of the sectors of our society that have been adding greenhouse gas pollution to the atmosphere?

We’re pleased to say that the Framework does well on all three questions - though there is still work to be done.  

Are the targets appropriate? The Framework notes that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued “a code red for humanity” last year, saying that avoiding the worst impacts of climate change requires cutting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 50% by 2030 and reaching net zero emissions by 2050. The Framework adopts these goals, which MCEA has been pushing for as part of the Next Generation Climate Act. The plan’s various recommendations, if implemented, would also bring Minnesota much closer to actually reaching these goals, though they would not alone bring us all the way there. 

Is the framework equitable? The Framework also outlines a significant set of actions that could be taken by government, individuals, businesses and others to make progress on climate goals. The Framework also emphasizes ideas to reduce and repair harms done by fossil fuel pollution to black, indigenous and people of color (BIPOC,) low-income, and transition communities. Below, we will discuss some of these ideas in more detail. 

Does the framework cover all sectors of society? The Framework is organized around 6 areas: Clean Transportation, Climate-smart Natural and Working Lands, Resilient Communities, Clean Energy and Efficient Buildings, Healthy Lives and Communities, and Clean Economy. Within each there are some specific targets, priority actions, and equity measures that should be taken.  The Framework also has suggestions of what “we can all do together,” because it’s essential for implementation that we all participate - it will take individuals, cities, businesses, and others to do their part. Here are the highlights of each of these sections. 


The challenge: Transportation is now the biggest CO2 emitter in Minnesota, and most transportation emissions come from passenger cars and trucks. The Framework proposes to reduce these emissions by using biofuels (like ethanol), increasing clean electric cars and trucks and expanding transit, biking and walking options.

Key Targets: 

  • By 2030, reach 20% Electric Vehicles (EVs) on Minnesota roads
  • By 2040, reduce GHG emissions from the transportation sector 80% 
  • By 2050, decrease vehicle miles traveled 20% per capita


  • The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) plans to direct $68 million of federal funds to develop a long-distance (EV) fast charging network across the state. Federal funds can also help make EVs more available and affordable. 
  • MnDOT is also exploring transmission lines built on highway right-of-ways. Wind, solar and battery systems need transmission lines to connect renewable energy to where electricity is needed. There are barriers to building these lines, and siting them along the highway would overcome many of those obstacles. 
  • Setting a goal to reduce vehicle miles traveled is needed and welcome. Meeting that goal will require public investments in transit, active modes of transportation including safe and accessible bike and walk lanes, generous incentives for E-Bikes, and EV car-sharing options, along with the land use changes needed to ensure those options are safe and accessible. 


  • Too much emphasis on biofuels? Biofuels are carbon emitters that work against our GHG emission targets. We need hard data and requirements that all fuels actually reduce GHG emissions. Additionally, the exclusive focus on changing fuels for cars and small trucks will not allow us to meet the targets, we will also need to reduce vehicle miles traveled by developing alternatives to driving. 
  • What about freight vehicles? Reducing air pollution burdens in environmental justice communities will require attention to electrifying freight vehicles as well.

Clean Energy and Efficient Buildings 

The Challenge:  GHG emissions from commercial buildings have risen 15%, and we’ve seen a 32% increase from residential buildings. While relatively small overall, the growth in GHG pollution from residential and commercial buildings needs to be reversed to meet our overall goals.  

The good news is that the electricity sector in Minnesota is getting cleaner every year, which means our buildings will use increasingly cleaner electricity over time. Under current policies, Minnesota utilities are transitioning to at least 75% carbon-free electricity by 2034. The 100% Clean Energy legislation that was proposed in the last legislative session and championed by Governor Walz would result in 100% carbon free electricity by 2040. 

Key Buildings Targets: 

  • By 2030, reduce building energy use by 10% and total waste heat and waste electricity by 15%, compared to 2005 levels
  • By 2035, reduce GHG emissions from existing buildings by 50% from 2005 levels

Key Electricity Target:  

  • By 2040 all of MN’s electricity is carbon free


  • Hitting these targets would have a big impact on GHG reduction in the power sector, dramatically clean up our electricity grid, and make buildings healthier and lower cost by switching to electricity instead of burning fossil fuels in our homes and workplaces. 
  • The proposals to update building codes for new construction and to weatherize a quarter of existing dwellings where occupants are low income are big steps forward and will help improve efficiency and reduce emissions from our buildings. 


  • Should Minnesota match federal clean electricity goals? We would encourage increasing the ambition of the clean electricity standard to meet the federal policy of 100% carbon-free electricity by 2035.
  • How can Minnesota maximize the federal money available and ensure it is used equitably? The Inflation Reduction Act provides substantial funds to help households install solar panels, batteries, heat pumps, and other key technologies, and to add insulation and other improvements to reduce building energy costs and emissions. The state has a major role to play in promoting awareness and access to these funds, and we should support policies that enable low and moderate income Minnesotans to install solar on their homes and make other energy saving improvements without up-front payments. 
  • How do we create a strategy to reach these targets? In order to have a reliable, clean energy grid, Minnesota needs a comprehensive strategy for rapidly expanding renewable energy, battery storage, and geothermal powered grids. The Framework lacks this detail. 
  • How do we modernize our electrical grid? The Framework aspires to “adapt the grid” by promoting electrical grid and transmission upgrades to enable greater reliability and renewable energy access and integration. We need clear strategies and policies to support the build out of a clean and flexible grid to move clean renewable energy to market. 
  • How do we move away from natural gas? Meeting the Framework’s goals will mean moving away from burning natural gas in our furnaces and our kitchens and in other appliances, and yet Minnesota continues to invest in expanding its natural gas infrastructure.  We need clearer strategies to replace the existing infrastructure with carbon-free alternatives.

Climate-Smart Natural and Working Lands 

The challenge: 

Agriculture is one of the top sources of greenhouse gas pollution in our state, but also has the potential to be a huge help in reaching climate goals. The Framework includes three main strategies: incentivize farmers to take up climate-friendly practices, invest in new sustainable crop supply chains, and promote local food access. The framework also notes the incredible carbon capture potential of forests, grasslands and wetlands. 

Key Targets: 

  • By 2030, all state funded or sponsored land, water, and species management plans identify actions to increase adaptation.
  • By 2035, 25% increase in carbon stored annually in natural and working lands
  • By 2035, reduce annual GHG emission in working lands sector by 25% from current levels


  • The Framework acknowledges key equity barriers to overcome in this sector, including land and loan barriers for emerging farmers, career paths for foresters, access to healthy foods, preserving traditional cultural resources, and access to public lands, and also includes support for “emerging farmers.” 
  • The focus on expanding community tree canopy will have direct benefits to local communities. Tree canopy provides many benefits for health, air quality, and climate resilience. Currently, trees are not distributed equally in urban areas so this is a way to address climate justice.

Key questions:

  • How can we better protect carbon-sequestering peatlands? We are hoping to see more ambition and plans to protect our remaining peatlands from ditching and drainage, which releases large quantities of carbon - the largest share of agriculture emissions.  
  • How can Minnesota maximize federal resources for agriculture? Recently passed federal legislation, including the Inflation Reduction Act and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, will be providing large sums of funding, including $20 billion for climate smart agriculture. Minnesota needs a strategy to maximize this funding. 

Resilient Communities

The Challenge: 

Extreme weather events are already causing fallen trees, flood damage, and droughts that require adaptation strategies and updated infrastructure. In addition to reducing emissions, it is essential to help Minnesotans adapt to climate change and to support the overall decarbonization of our economy. 

Key Targets: 

  • By 2026, at least 25 projects that increase community resilience are fully funded
  • By 2030, all Minnesotans live in communities with plans that identify climate risks and actions to build resiliency 
  • Achieve 30% overall tree canopy cover in MN communities by 2030 and 40% by 2050. 


It’s time to pay attention to our infrastructure. Many of the systems that we depend on for clean water, electricity, and transportation are aging, and under the additional strain of changes in our climate. Integrating climate change into decision making about funding, prioritization and design of these systems is needed and a valuable part of the Framework.

Trees are community infrastructure that will only become more important as climate change continues. The Framework’s emphasis on protecting existing tree cover and planting climate resilient trees in communities across the state might be surprising to some, but it is essential. 


How do we ensure that local decisions are in line with the state Framework? Many of the key elements of this section will require coordination between the State and local governments, so ensuring good communication and alignment of resources will determine whether many of these goals are met. 

Healthy Lives and Communities 

The Challenge:
As climate change accelerates,  there are direct and indirect impacts on peoples’ health, and these impacts are concentrated in poor and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) communities. In particular, extreme heat events that lead to health problems and death are becoming more common every year. 

Key Targets: 

  • By 2025, ensure at least 40% of the benefits of state and federal climate investments are in disadvantaged communities
  • By 2030, reduce age-adjusted rate of heat related ER visits to 10 per 100,000 residents
  • By 2030, reduce the energy burden so at least 80% of Minnesotans spend less than 5% of their household income on energy costs


  • We applaud the specific goals in this section which will reduce extreme heat health impacts and raise awareness of health impacts of climate change.  
  • We support increased diversity, equity and inclusion in state agency leadership and attention to public health, resilience and adaptation across the state.   
  • We applaud the Framework’s inclusion of the “Justice40” goal set by the Biden Administration - ensuring that at least 40% of federal climate funds go to the most disadvantaged communities impacted by air pollution.


How will we hold ourselves accountable for these measures? MCEA supports strong and measurable targets that we can use to assess progress. The history of making promises to disadvantaged communities and then failing to follow through is long. To break that cycle, we need accountability, which means committing ourselves to measuring our progress and reporting that to the public. 

Clean Economy 

The challenge:  While Minnesota has seen explosive growth in clean energy and energy efficiency jobs, in order to reach our goals Minnesota needs to develop workforce strategies for skill training and to remove barriers to employment and training for women, BIPOC, and disabled Minnesotans.  

Key Targets: 

  • In 2023, create a clean economy workforce and economic development plan with trackable metrics 
  • Increase the number of apprentices in the construction trades and percentages of people of color and women
  • Increase jobs in all sectors of the clean economy 


  • How do we avoid the trap of announcing goals but failing to meet them? Similar goals have been announced many times over, starting as early as 2008. While prior efforts have helped to build Minnesota’s clean energy economy, what is new and different in this plan? 
  • When will Minnesota dig into the details? We need to know the details of how, when, and with whom this will be implemented. We support the measures of progress and would like to see the details to ensure accountability.  

In conclusion, the Minnesota Climate Framework is a powerful foundation for Minnesota to move forward on an aggressive path towards creating the  healthy environment our lives depend upon. To be successful, state leaders must be held accountable to specific targets in this framework, and Minnesotans must demand implementation.  

We are pleased to see a number of aggressive targets for action. Specific targets are some of the most powerful statements because they can be measured and our government can be held accountable for meeting them.  

Implementation is where the rubber hits the road.  Even with clear targets in state law, the targets in the 2007 Next Generation Energy Act for greenhouse gas reduction have never been met. Unless we follow up the Minnesota Climate Framework with legislative and executive actions to make it real, it will follow a procession of earlier plans gathering dust on a shelf. 

That’s why you matter. When we all work together to demand climate action, we can make it happen. Follow MCEA on social media, subscribe to our emails, and join us when we call for climate action in 2023 and beyond.