Members of the group iMatter moved a Minneapolis suburb to adopt an aggressive climate change resolution. Credit: iMatter

Thanks to student activism, St. Louis Park, Minnesota, is backing up a carbon neutral pledge with an ambitious climate action plan.

A Minneapolis suburb is moving forward with a climate action plan, thanks in part to the activism of high school students.

Last month, the St. Louis Park City Council adopted a climate action plan, a more formal policy that follows a May 2016 resolution vowing to make the city carbon neutral by 2040.

Students who brought the cause to the council two years ago were happy to hear the city is following through on the pledge.

“I was impressed, and we were all impressed, that they passed it,” said Lukas Wrede, a St. Louis Park senior and member of the school’s environmental club.

The students are part of a national trend of young activists getting involved on climate change and other issues. Students across the country are planning a nationwide series of climate marches on July 21.

The policy they helped pass in St. Louis Park ranks as the most aggressive climate action policy of any city in Minnesota. Minneapolis has a goal of an 80 percent emission reduction by 2050.

St. Louis Park hired the Great Plains Institute, a nonprofit clean energy advocacy organization in Minneapolis, to produce the strategy for reaching the suburb’s ambitious carbon goal.

The plan calls for cutting energy use in public and private buildings, as well as encouraging the use of electric vehicles and the purchase of renewable energy through Xcel Energy’s Windsource and Renewable Connect programs, as well as through community solar. The city’s goal is to power itself entirely by renewable energy by 2030.

Community engagement on energy issues will be a top priority, with the development of a one-stop climate action plan website.

St. Louis Park’s government operations account for only 2 percent of electricity use, so officials will need to partner with residents and businesses to meet the goals. St. Louis Park has more than 600 commercial buildings and all of them will need to be retrofitted for the city to reach its goal, the report stated.

Other proposals include passing an building energy disclosure ordinance requiring buildings of 20,000 square feet or more report electricity and natural gas consumption; strengthen an existing green building policy and design and build all structures to be net zero by 2030.  

Abby Finis, a senior planner with the Great Plains Institute who wrote the action plan for St. Louis Park, said several components will play a role in declining emissions in the car dependent suburb.

A light rail line will have stops in St. Louis Park in the future, for example, bringing opportunities for fewer vehicle trips, she said.  One of the city’s first projects will be to add electric vehicle charging stations in public parking lots.

Students didn’t write the plan, but they gave input and wrote the introduction.

“We’re witnessing a woke generation,” Finis said. “These kids see what’s wrong with things. They see processes that slow things down, but they don’t care about that.”

Shannon Pinc, the city’s sustainability coordinator, believes St. Louis Park would have eventually passed a climate mitigation plan, “but we were encouraged to do this soon rather than later by our youth.”

The teens worked closely with iMatter, a national organization dedicated to working with youth committed to climate change. The group’s executive director, Larry Kraft, lives in the Twin Cities and helps support student organizations push their city councils to act on climate change.  

Several other Minnesota and Midwest cities have students working with iMatter on resolutions similar to those passed in St. Louis Park.

Junior Katie Christiansen, a newcomer to school’s environmental club, was pleased with the city’s action.

“It’s super brave that the council believes we can do this as a city,” Christiansen said. “It’s really awesome.”

Frank is an independent journalist and consultant based in St. Paul and a longtime contributor to Midwest Energy News. His articles have appeared in more than 50 publications, including Minnesota Monthly, Wired, the Los Angeles Times, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Minnesota Technology, Finance & Commerce and others. Frank has also been a Humphrey policy fellow at the University of Minnesota, a Fulbright journalism teacher in Pakistan and Albania, and a program director of the World Press Institute at Macalester College. Frank covers the state of Minnesota.