Local leadership on climate change issues
July 19, 2017
In June 2017, Mayor Rahm Emanuel issued an executive order committing the City of Chicago to a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 26 percent from 2005 levels by 2025. The City joins more than 200 other municipalities across the country in developing greenhouse gas inventories, setting targets for reduced emissions, and developing climate action plans. The most recent greenhouse gas emissions inventory for northeastern Illinois, completed in 2012, estimates a total of 126 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent from all sources attributable to the region in 2010.
While climate change is a global issue, many actions can be taken at the regional and local levels to reduce emissions and, in particular, prepare for more extreme weather events. On the latter point, local governments are capable of doing a great deal to make their communities more resilient to the effects of climate change.
Within metropolitan areas, comprehensive plans like GO TO 2040 that integrate transportation and land use help to reduce emissions from the transportation sector, which represents the second largest share of emissions in both the region and nationally, through more compact, mixed use developments and an increased commitment to public transportation. Further, more compact development can reduce emissions related to energy and heating, particularly if more people live in multifamily buildings. Regional planning can also help to preserve critical natural areas, such as those identified in the Chicago area Green Infrastructure Vision, reducing the risk and impacts of flooding, conserving natural habitats, and promoting access to open space.
This Policy Update briefly reviews opportunities for local governments to take the lead on climate change issues, providing a high-level survey of various approaches, as well as a review of planning efforts in northeastern Illinois.
Local planning efforts
A growing body of work has identified various best practices within the purview of local governments through their roles in regulation, planning and zoning, public works, and procurement. Through regulation or policy decisions, local governments can revise building codes to promote energy and water conservation, promote appropriate design standards and landscaping practices that increase resilience in flood-prone areas, implement "complete streets" policies to promote walking and biking, and, more generally, zone for more compact, mixed-use development. Through administrative processes, they can buy products that focus on waste prevention or energy efficiency, such as low- or zero-emission vehicles for public fleets or recycled materials, and incorporate vulnerability assessments into planning processes.
Local governments can site and build public infrastructure and facilities in ways that promote multiple benefits, for example emphasizing "green building" standards or integrating green stormwater infrastructure into complete streets policies. The Chicago Department of Transportation's Sustainable Urban Infrastructure policy provides a good example. Local agencies can also support redundant transportation options, including alternative modes of transportation as well as overlapping routes for existing modes, to promote resilience.
The Sustainable Cities Initiative of the National League of Cities, as one example, provides resources to help cities pursue strategies to address climate change. They also highlight case studies of local communities implementing climate change measures. Atlanta, as one illustration, has established a transit-oriented development district with progressive environmental standards. Closer to home, Chicago has used green infrastructure to allow parking lots to reflect heat, create places for stormwater storage, and produce hundreds of green alleys. Cleveland has supported urban agriculture by updating its zoning code to establish urban garden districts, and allow keeping of livestock and agriculture as a principal use on vacant lots. To address energy conservation and efficiency, Eugene, Oregon, has increased fossil fuel prices, and New York City has required an increase in the efficiency of its existing building inventory. These and other approaches can help local communities to build redundant infrastructure and promote greater coordination across agencies and jurisdictions, which in turn increases their resilience to the impacts of climate change.
CMAP has been active in planning at the local level, having completed sustainability plans for Park Forest, Lake County, and Oak Park/River Forest through the Local Technical Assistance (LTA) program. With support from and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, CMAP is partnering with the American Planning Association to incorporate climate data into five LTA projects: the City of Des Plaines Comprehensive Plan, Village of Richton Park Capital Improvement Plan, Fox River Corridor Plan in McHenry and Lake Counties, City of Berwyn stormwater plan, and City of Wilmington downtown plan.
Climate change and ON TO 2050
As described in the Climate Resilience Strategy Paper, northeastern Illinois is already experiencing the effects of climate change, including increased temperatures, longer periods of drought, and increased heavy storm events. Accordingly, climate change is a focus of CMAP's ongoing planning efforts as part of the development of ON TO 2050. More specifically, one of the Alternative Futures being considered through this process is called "Changed Climate," which imagines a future with intensified climate change impacts: more extreme temperatures, warmer winters, more intense and frequent storms, and droughts. The potential impacts of this future, such as increased property damage from flooding, are outlined in greater detail in a memo, and strategies to prepare for these impacts are explored in depth in the Climate Resilience Strategy Paper.
The Alternative Futures process represents one of the most extensive public engagement opportunities in the development of ON TO 2050. There are several avenues to get involved, including surveys, videos, interactive kiosks, workshops, and forums. This public input will help to refine the climate change recommendations that will be adopted in ON TO 2050.