German exchange inspires climate action discussion at UMN

University students, state lawmakers and environmental experts involved in the exchange met Tuesday to discuss local climate action.

Andrew Rhodes listens in on a presentation about work towards specific climate goals between Minnesota and Germany on Tuesday, April 16 at Northrop Auditorium.

Jasmin Kemp

Andrew Rhodes listens in on a presentation about work towards specific climate goals between Minnesota and Germany on Tuesday, April 16 at Northrop Auditorium.

Erin Wilson

Minnesota state lawmakers and University of Minnesota students gathered on campus Tuesday evening to host a conversation about local action on climate change.

Hosted by Sen. Kari Dziedzic, DFL-Minneapolis, and the University’s Institute on the Environment, the event focused on partnerships between Minnesotan and German cities working toward specific climate goals. A panel of state lawmakers and University students guided a discussion about their experiences and possible change in Minnesota.

Sabine Engel, director of international partnerships at the Institute on the Environment, said the event emphasized the importance of climate action at the local level. For eight years, Minnesota has participated in a direct exchange with Germany to learn about renewable energy policy from one another.

“This is really a technology exchange, an expertise exchange, so this is not just about visiting each other. … No, we want to get together because we believe that cities are going to lead us,” Engel said. “At the University, we believe you don’t have to be one particular type of city. … What really matters is, is there leadership that gets everybody to come together?”

Over the past few years, student delegates from the University have gone on two-week German exchanges to learn about its transition to renewable energy. During the exchange, students meet with leaders, economists and other German representatives involved in the transition and study rural communities moving toward renewable energy.

University sophomore Rachel Linzbach, a student delegate from this year, said Germany’s “holistic and systematic approach” to an energy transition resonated with her.

“It has resulted in changes in economics, policy and also industrial changes … and it resulted in a change in German society that extends not only in Germany, but can be followed all throughout the world,” Linzbach said on the panel.

Cora Sutherland, a senior who went to Germany as a delegate in January 2018, said she liked that the program was open to any major.

“There [were] people from Carlson who I got to talk to, there were … engineers,” Sutherland said. “Like, ‘Oh, I didn’t know any of that, but also you didn’t know any of the things that I just told you,’ so it was … really cool to learn from each other.”

Dziedzic said she wanted to organize a community conversation after meeting students who went on the exchange.

“I … wanted to create a space where we could have a … good conversation and think about not just what we are doing, what the city is doing, but how do we hold each other accountable and how do we move forward?” Dziedzic said at the event.

The event also featured a clip from a 2018 documentary produced by the Institute on the Environment titled “Climate Smart: Cities Working Together,” which won a Regional Emmy. The documentary highlights state lawmakers, city leaders and experts from around the state discussing successes and shortcomings of climate action in the state and how Minnesota is learning from Germany.

Rep. Mohamud Noor, DFL-Minneapolis, also sat on the panel to discuss policy and answer questions from the audience. He said it is crucial to start conversations at the local level and bring people of different backgrounds to the table.

“The future lies on us investing in good … clean energy, having policies that will reflect not today but the future. We’ve got to believe in scientists … we are not reacting to the realities that we are in right now,” Noor said. “Climate change is real. … If we don’t start at home, and create that ripple-effect … you’re not going to go anywhere.”