Duluth Citizens’ Climate Action Plan: The local solution

Melissa Hoang

Thomas Preston Foster, founder of the city’s first newspaper, once laid out a vision for the future of Duluth, declaring it the “Zenith City of the Unsalted Seas!”

A grand statement for a grand city!

In regards to climate action, Duluth has not yet reached its zenith. Rather, we have the ability to set a precedent for the way cities can respond to the rising levels of greenhouse gas emissions. Envision a future for Duluth, powered by renewable resources, with a city street infrastructure that works for people of all ages, income levels, and abilities.

Imagine it becoming the major hub of food production it once was, providing access to healthy and affordable food for all.

Visualize each person in our community living in energy-efficient and comfortable homes supported by good, clean energy jobs.

Duluth has the power to become a leader of climate action that prioritizes its residents that have shown time and time again that they love this city.

Recognizing the critical importance of climate action, the City of Duluth, in 2018, made a commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050 (based on 2008 levels).

While we applaud the city’s efforts and recognize the importance of this goal, City emissions account for only 4% of community-wide emissions in Duluth.

In the absence of a community-wide plan, citizens have taken the initiative in developing one themselves. The Duluth Citizens’ Climate Action Plan was created in collaboration between Ecolibrium3, the Duluth Climate and Energy Network, and local experts in food, housing, energy and transportation.

The plan addresses the following question: What will it take for Duluth to meet the goal of reducing community-wide greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050?

The plan presents a course of action for achieving this goal, which emphasizes the roles of Duluth’s government, institutions, businesses, and residents in setting various actions in motion.

In contrast to other climate action plans that provide broad ideas for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the Duluth Citizens’ Climate Action Plan is based on extensive research, analysis and modeling specifically for Duluth conditions, taking into account details such as the age of local housing stock.

International, regional, state and local expertise was pulled on to assist in the development of the plan. Key action steps were taken from Project Drawdown, an international effort of scientists to calculate the most impactful changes to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and cross-referenced with the Imagine Duluth 2035 Comprehensive Plan, Minnesota GreenStep Cities, and the recommendations of local experts.

The plan focuses on the four sectors responsible for Duluth’s greenhouse gas emissions: food and agriculture, buildings, transportation, and energy production.

It identifies four priorities necessary for Duluth to meet its reduction goals: develop a food system infrastructure that enables local food growth, processing, and distribution, enhance efficiency of our buildings that will be fueled by clean and efficient energy, prioritize street design and modes of transportation such as walking, biking, and public transportation, and move to renewables and develop community-owned, locally produced clean energy.

City government can make a significant impact on how readily we, the residents, institutions, and businesses of Duluth, can change our greenhouse gas emissions trajectory and find the
path to decarbonization by 2050.

To aid in our prospects of success, the City of Duluth can lead by example and support our choices in a variety of ways. The city can reduce barriers by providing incentives, educational programs, improving access to information and resources, and providing logistical support. It can advocate within the city and at the state level regarding legislation and building codes, and other various issues affecting greenhouse gas emission-reduction strategies. It can regulate benchmark energy performance, require accountability, institute new zoning codes, and adopt ordinances and rules to support efforts of the plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The Duluth Citizens’ Climate Action Plan is not intended to be a one-time, “we have all the answers” plan. A lot will change over the next three decades in technology, costs, infrastructure, demographics, social norms, and national and state policies.

As we implement the plan, the city can help track efforts by updating the annual GHG emission inventory. Doing so will provide an overall assessment of progress and allow us to make adjustments along the way while remaining mindful of our goal of reducing community-wide greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050.

Having done the groundwork, the Duluth Citizens’ Climate Action Plan helps to make it accessible for all to get involved and make an impact. By highlighting the “Community Initiatives”, the plan amplifies the voices of the many dedicated members of our community working to build a more equitable and sustainable Duluth, emphasizing the fact that we are committed to the decarbonization of the city.

As we think about next steps, envision for a moment: Duluth reaching its true zenith, a people-first city, powered by the collective impact of its people.