After two years of planning, local leaders are ready to take action on climate change.
With the goal of decreasing and eventually eliminating greenhouse gas emissions in the next 30 years, leaders from the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration unveiled a Climate Action Plan designed to mitigate climate effects on the local environment.
Geneva Mayor Kevin Burns, chairman of the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus environment committee, hosted Tuesday’s online conference that also featured comments from U.S. Rep. Bill Foster and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot. Members of the panel included U.S. Rep. Sean Casten, Aurora Senior Planner Alex Minnella and U.S. Department of Commerce Deputy Secretary Don Graves.
The 124-page action plan spells out a number of goals, including decarbonizing energy sources and transportation, implementing clean energy policies, reducing miles traveled by vehicles, expanding mass transit options and managing water and waste sustainability.
By focusing on the reduction of emissions at a local level — the Chicago Metropolitan Region represents 284 municipalities and 8.9 million residents — organizers hope to spread the message throughout the country. Kansas City, Missouri, Washington, D.C., Denver and Boulder, Colorado, and Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota. are the other regions participating in the climate project.
To reduce emissions, the plan calls for implementing alternative energy options for commercial, residential and manufacturing buildings and with transportation. One idea is to build residential areas closer to mass transit to reduce driving.
“We can and must get started immediately on the easy strategies within the plan, but we must not stop there,” Burns said. “We must also tackle the more challenging ones. Tackling those together will make a big difference.”
Highland Park Councilwoman Kim Stone highlighted the ways her city has reduced emissions while saving money. The city recently purchased hybrid police vehicles that cost $3,000 more than all-gas vehicles, but the annual savings of running those vehicles is $4,000 a year.
Casten, a Democrat from Downers Grove, stressed the economic opportunity the area could enjoy during a building boom as the region converts to energy efficiency.
“New York knows how to finance things, San Francisco knows how to digitize things and Chicago knows how to build things,” he said. “This is going to be a big opportunity for the Chicago region, but it’s going to be intimately tied with the municipal level in how we are going to build these things.”
Lightfoot said the region increasingly is dealing with year-round “climate stressors” such as extreme heat, poor air quality and rising water levels in Lake Michigan that contribute to flooding and erosion of the shoreline.
Through municipal cooperation, Lightfoot believes the region can begin reversing the climate trend.
“We are in alignment at every level of government and with community and environmental stakeholders to act rapidly to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and accelerate a transition to a clean and renewable energy economy,” she said. “This is a seminal moment for us and we dare not waste this opportunity. We must act.”