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Intensify climate mitigation efforts

Intensify climate mitigation efforts

Climate change is a national and international concern. GHGs form a protective barrier that traps heat and provides a livable climate on earth, but as emissions increase, more trapped heat leads to negative environmental impacts. Burning fossil fuels, clearing forests and prairies, and other human activities have increased GHGs, while natural and human mitigation efforts have failed to keep pace. Because our own activities contribute to climate change, the region's residents, businesses, utilities, and institutions must actively work to reduce emissions and diminish future impacts. In 2015, the most recent year for which data exists, northeastern Illinois emitted 119 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent. In total, this amounts to 14 metric tons of CO2 equivalent per capita from stationary energy, transportation, industry, solid waste, and wastewater. Stationary energy and transportation account for 97 percent of the region’s emissions. In 2015, building energy, including natural gas and electricity, was responsible for 69 percent of all GHG emissions in the region. On-road transportation, which includes public, private, and commercial motor vehicles, was the second-largest source of emissions. The differences in the region’s built environment, housing density, related energy consumption, and travel behavior help explain the variable emissions across the region.


[GRAPHIC TO COME: A chart will show 2015 Greenhouse gas emissions inventory with indicator targets.]


Creating resilient and livable communities requires intensified efforts to reduce and mitigate emissions that contribute to climate change. GO TO 2040 emphasized climate mitigation as a co-benefit inherent to its recommendations for land use, environment, housing, and transportation. Compact infill development, improved pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure, increased investments in public transit, more efficient consumption of energy, and proliferation of renewable energy generation systems all contribute to climate mitigation, not to mention reduced congestion. In addition, communities can mitigate climate change through carbon sequestration through vegetation and soils. A CMAP-supported Chicago Wilderness study estimating ecosystem service values within the region found that a large tree can remove more than 1,000 pounds of CO2 per year. In total, the region’s green infrastructure contributes to carbon sequestration valued at an estimated $11.5 million each year.[1] ON TO 2050 calls for conserving 400,000 acres of open space by 2050 and continues to strongly support the climate mitigation strategies of GO TO 2040.[2]


Transformative changes in the energy sector -- from closed coal power plants to solar and other renewable industries to fuel efficient vehicles -- offer the promise of substantial reductions in emissions. Regional stakeholders should prepare for and harness these changes to ensure benefits to all residents. Through a socioeconomic lens, research suggests that low income communities spend a disproportionate share of their income on energy costs,[3] and communities of color have historically suffered from greater exposure to the local environmental impacts of energy generation and consumption. Understanding and addressing the financial, environmental, and social needs of these users, as well as other vulnerable groups like seniors, will be critical to avoid perpetuating inequities in the future.


ON TO 2050 sets GHG reduction targets in line with global goals to place the world on a “stabilization path,” the approximate emissions trajectory needed to constrain temperatures to a global mean increase of two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. This translates to a reduction of emissions to 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.  To achieve that goal, the Chicago region, as well as the State and federal governments, will need to intensify climate mitigation in a variety of ways. In addition to the strategies listed here, the array of environmental strategies presented elsewhere in this chapter can help the region mitigate and adapt to climate change. For example, an integrated approach to water resources, where water is conserved and reused, can reduce the energy consumption associated with water treatment, distribution, and wastewater treatment. On the other end of the spectrum, preserving and enhancing the region’s natural areas and retrofitting our built environment with green infrastructure helps retain and expand the natural carbon sequestration services these areas provide.


The following subsection describes strategies and actions to implement this recommendation.

Comprehensively address energy and climate change at the federal and state levels

GO TO 2040 called for a variety of energy and climate change policy actions that are best completed at the federal and state levels, and ON TO 2050 reaffirms the commitment to national GHG reduction targets. In December 2015, 187 countries adopted the universal and legally binding Paris Agreement that calls for key outcomes that support climate action.[4] The U.S. pledged to reduce its emissions 26 to 28 percent relative to 2005 levels by 2025, and 80 percent by 2050. While the Clean Power Plan, the first federal regulation that limits carbon pollution, and other initiatives have stalled,[5] individual states are continuing to push reduction targets from power plant emissions and are taking additional measures such as improving fuel efficiency standards and the carbon content of fuels, reducing industrial emissions, and establishing policies to promote energy conservation and renewable energy. Existing federal and state transportation, housing, and energy policies should be reviewed to better integrate carbon reduction strategies. In addition to federal regulation, innovative market mechanisms for mitigating carbon emissions, such as carbon fee and dividend proposals, have the potential to transform our response to reduction targets.


The federal government should uphold its commitment to the Paris Agreement and continue federal involvement in strategies to achieve these goals, including the expansion of renewable energy and efficiency programs and exploration of market mechanisms for reducing GHG emissions.

The State should continue to implement the Future Energy Jobs Act and other emission reduction policies and programs that promote energy conservation and transition the region to renewable sources.

CMAP should regularly update the GHG inventory to provide critical information to stakeholders on the implementation of emission reduction strategies.

CMAP and partners should create a regional climate action plan to identify further strategies to move toward ON TO 2050’s emissions reductions target.

Transform transportation systems to reduce emissions

Electricity generation has diversified to include more low- and zero-emissions sources, with 51 percent of our region’s energy coming from nuclear power and four percent coming from wind and solar.[6] However, the transportation sector still depends primarily on fossil fuel consumption and emissions. In addition to decreasing vehicle miles traveled, as discussed in the Mobility chapter, alternative energy and emissions reduction technology are critical to reducing emissions. Due to increasingly stringent fuel economy standards, vehicles that use conventional gasoline will become more efficient, and more than a quarter of cars and light duty trucks could be powered by electricity and other alternative fuels by 2050.[7] Passenger cars are most likely to be electrified, with a dramatic increase in plug-in and hybrid electric vehicle market share projected by 2050. Transit agencies and local governments are investing in electric vehicles and replacing their fleet with more energy efficient vehicles. Fuel savings from these investments could continue to increase, especially if gas prices rise or carbon fee and dividend proposals are implemented. Improved charging infrastructure is needed to increase adoption rates of electric vehicles. Incentivizing the installation of fast chargers into multi-unit housing developments and near-term investments in publicly available wireless charging stations or electrified roadways can help extend operable ranges of electric vehicles. Expansion of public transit and transit oriented development remains critical to reducing emissions; see the Make transit more competitive recommendation in the Mobility chapter.


CMAP should continue to fund fleet replacement, such as electric buses and charging stations, through CMAQ.

Transportation agencies should adopt electric vehicles and other innovative emission reduction technologies and plan for integration of solar and charging stations into new projects.

Local governments should review development ordinances to identify ways to promote electric vehicle infrastructure in the transportation system.

Increase low- and zero-emissions energy generation

Although energy conservation remains a key priority, the region must make a more aggressive shift to renewable energy. Solar, wind, and nuclear energy generation produces little to no emissions compared with traditional fossil fuel-based sources. For electric vehicles to become truly sustainable, the Chicago region would need to make strides toward increasing its percentage of renewable energy generation. Recent updates to the state’s renewable portfolio standard are anticipated to accelerate development of wind and solar. The City of Chicago and Cook County, in partnership with energy service providers, have both offered bulk solar programs to reduce prices for users. Utilities and municipalities can work together to remove regulatory barriers and reduce costs of clean energy generation and distribution, from small-scale rooftop solar panels to district energy systems. The development of renewable energy systems goes hand in hand with more decentralized energy generation; for more information see the Create a more flexible and decentralized electric grid strategy in the Plan for climate resilience recommendation.


Energy service providers, such as ComEd, should continue to diversify their energy portfolio to include a greater share of renewable sources.


The state and federal governments should continue to advance renewable portfolio standards, and keep pace with technological changes.


Local governments should allow and promote renewable energy systems in zoning, building, design guidelines, and energy codes and explore bulk purchasing options.


CMAP should develop template renewable energy ordinance language and design guidelines for use by local governments.


[1] CMAP. 2014. “Green Infrastructure Vision: Version 2.3 Ecosystem Service Valuation.”

[2] GO TO 2040, see “Manage and Conserve Energy and Water Resources”

[3] Energy Efficiency for All. 2016. “Lifting the high energy burden in America’s Largest Cities.”

[4] United Nations. 2018. “The Paris Agreement.”

[5] U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 2017. “Complying with President Trump’s Executive Order on Energy Independence.”

[6] U.S. Energy Information Administration. 2017. “Annual Energy Outlook 2017.”

[7] Ibid.

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