Our climate is changing at a global scale. Climate resilience is the ability of our region and its communities to prepare for and recover from the acute shocks and chronic stresses of climate change by transforming our infrastructure, natural systems, and social structures to be more responsive and adaptable. This will necessitate reenvisioning the way road, water, and energy infrastructure is built and maintained, preserving and protecting natural and agricultural areas, implementing stormwater best management practices, and creating social networks and resources to give residents tools to withstand climate impacts.
In northeastern Illinois, a changing climate translates to more frequent and severe weather events, extreme heat, and drought (see the ON TO 2050 Natural Resources snaphot for more information). Climate change acts as a force multiplier on already existing environmental, land use, economic, transportation, and social challenges, compounding and exacerbating these issues through its impacts. Flooding has already caused major road, rail, and utility outages, disruptions of freight traffic, sewer overflows, and personal and financial stresses for residents and businesses. Heat waves have caused illness, hospitalization, and death in vulnerable communities as well as damage to infrastructure, and drought has had significant adverse effects on the region’s agricultural sector, water supply, and natural areas. Increasing temperatures can also lead to greater ozone formation, worsening air quality. The land and water assets that make up the region’s green infrastructure network not only support environmental quality, but also provide an important line of defense against many of these negative impacts. Those assets also face challenges from a changing climate and must be protected to ensure continued ecosystem services.
[GRAPHIC TO COME: An informational graphic on climate change impacts will highlight climate impacts, particularly flood damages, including climate projections.]
In addition, the region’s gray infrastructure is not prepared for many of today’s storms. Most of the region’s roads were designed using standards that pre-date the increased number of heavy rain events, freeze-thaw cycles, and hotter and wetter conditions posed by a changing climate. Water and wastewater treatment plants are impacted by flooding, which can disrupt service and pollute surface waters. Increased freeze-thaw events can lead to additional water main breaks and water loss. Energy infrastructure cannot always respond to increased peaks in demand from extreme temperatures, and older facilities may not be built to withstand stronger storms.
Concerted, collaborative regional effort on resilience issues is essential to create a climate resilient region and maximize the benefit of investments. Climate issues cross physical and political boundaries, and can be integrated into a variety of planning efforts, such as comprehensive plans, capital improvement plans, green infrastructure plans, watershed plans, and regulatory updates. The region’s most vulnerable residents are particularly affected by climate change impacts like increased flooding, transit disruptions, or heat waves, and should be extensively engaged in resilience planning.
[GRAPHIC TO COME: An illustrated graphic will show climate resilience interventions in a subarea of the region.]
The following subsection describes strategies and actions to implement this recommendation.