Aug 21, 2020

Reimagining an economic recovery with a low-carbon future

There’s an opportunity right now for a massive infrastructure investment plan that would upgrade electricity systems and public transportation, and electrify our industries. That could create immediate employment and long-term economic value, and shift the world to a low-carbon future.” Emily Kirsch, CEO and Founder, Powerhouse[1]


The COVID-19 pandemic continues to hinder economic progress throughout northeastern Illinois and the nation, disrupting many people’s livelihoods in the process. Economic recovery and stabilization, followed by massive stimulus to restart the economy, are urgently needed. An infusion of public funding, combined with a comprehensive policy approach at the federal and state levels, could lead us through the ongoing climate crisis and move us toward a sustainable future.

In line with global climate goals, ON TO 2050, the long-range plan for northeastern Illinois, set a target for the region to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050 (Figure 1). To achieve that target, the region will need to work with state and federal officials to reverse the effects of our business-as-usual trajectory. Climate change is a disruptive force, compounding and exacerbating existing environmental, transportation, and other challenges. As one example, more frequent and severe floods in recent years have caused major road, rail, and utility outages; disrupted freight activity; and added financial burdens on residents and businesses, particularly in disinvested communities.

Northeastern Illinois' 2050 emissions reduction goal

Through intentional investments in a low-carbon future, our region can strengthen its resilience, make northeastern Illinois more competitive globally, and equip our diverse workforce with skills that can meet modern demands. Stimulus funding could spring new job opportunities in clean energy, one of the country’s fastest growing industries. A clean electricity system over the next 15 years could support more than a half million new net jobs per year, add $1.7 trillion into the national economy, and boost domestic manufacturing. One study found that five additional jobs would be created with every $1 million in spending shifted from fossil fuels to clean energy. The pandemic presents a rare opportunity for policymakers not only to stabilize the economy in the near future, but transform it in a sustainable way.

 

Reimagining economic recovery

Instead of falling back on yesterday’s economic model and resulting pollution emissions, we can take a giant step toward a low-carbon future. Models exist that could be adapted and scaled for use in the region. Europe, perhaps, has the best examples of serious investment in a low-carbon future — an issue the European Union and its member countries have led globally for decades. As one example, the European Union committed $800 billion earlier this year to an economic stimulus that includes green strategies.[2]

In the U.S., states continue to work together to invest in mitigation. The Transportation and Climate Initiative of Northeast and Mid-Atlantic States partnership is a multi-state voluntary cooperative that seeks to improve transportation, develop a clean energy economy, and reduce carbon emissions from the transportation sector. Regional policies and programs to achieve these goals include its Cap-and-Invest strategy, which invests carbon tax revenue in clean transportation projects.

U.S. history has shown the value of integrating environmental jobs and improvements into recovery efforts. The New Deal of the 1930s funded massive public works investments, including the creation of the Civilian Conservation Corps. Employing three million workers over nine years, the corps made environmental and recreational improvements to national parks and other public spaces.

During the 1950s and 1960s, the federal government reshaped the way we live, work, and travel in metropolitan areas by investing billions of dollars in large-scale highway projects, mortgage subsidies, loan guarantees, and public housing. More recently, the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) directed nearly $100 billion toward a clean-energy economy through investments in the solar, wind, and electric vehicle industries. Although production shifted offshore after federal support dwindled after 2016, investors continue to see wind and solar power as solid investments, even at times of market volatility.

Even with climate change, one of the ultimate goals of a recovery must be putting Americans back to work. Locally, the pandemic arrived just as movement toward climate action seemed to be accelerating. Many believed we were on the verge of a major step forward with passage of the Clean Energy Jobs Act. This legislation would enhance the Renewable Portfolio Standards (Illinois Power Agency). Illinois’ new capital bill and its FY2021 budget also include funding for clean transportation, energy efficiency, and clean energy jobs. Our region still has room to improve, especially since other metropolitan areas saw greater improvements to air quality during the coronavirus shutdown earlier this year. Stronger investments are needed to dramatically reduce emissions, and support sustained job growth and creation.

 

Climate + equity challenge

The effects of climate change will continue to expose longstanding inequities in northeastern Illinois, similar to how COVID-19 has revealed deep disparities in health outcomes and health care access. CMAP has found that communities of color in the region already are more likely to experience urban flooding due to extreme rainfall. Additional research indicates that low-income communities face increased risk of fire, droughts and floods, and hurricanes — all of which are projected to increase and intensify with climate change. Higher levels of economic and social vulnerability often mean disinvested communities are the least prepared to respond.

Fighting climate change addresses equity on multiple levels. It prevents further harm to the lives and property of those living in disadvantaged communities, where there may be poor air quality due to burning fossil fuels nearby. Equity and environmental justice goals also must be integrated into a clean energy work plan. For example, retrofitting or constructing energy-efficient affordable housing can provide shelter for unemployed residents and residents with lower incomes, and lower utility bills.

 

Multiple strategies are essential

To advance climate goals, large-scale change needs to happen in the four sectors that emit most of the world’s greenhouse gases. Electricity generation, transportation, commercial and residential buildings, and industry (Figure 2) are responsible for 75 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the world. Progress toward GHG emissions reductions can be achieved through large-scale transformations, some of which are already underway in the region, including:

  • Develop an electrified transportation system, as well as shift to alternative fuels and improved fuel economy. Communities in northeastern Illinois already are taking the lead on this issue. In Downers Grove, most of the village’s vehicle fleet uses some form of alternative fuel like biodiesel and ethanol.

  • Shift from using single-occupancy vehicles toward transit and other forms of mobility. As one example, Chicago encouraged bicycling by launching the Divvy bike sharing program. Now with 600 stations and 6,000 bikes, the popular program recently started expanding to the far South Side.

  • Ease peak travel times and congestion through more remote work and staggered start times. The region experienced some benefits of this change when Illinois’ stay-at-home order took effect in March. Air quality improved slightly and long travel times diminished.

  • Change electricity generation from fossil fuels to low- and no-carbon fuels, such as wind and solar. For example, Cook County received $1.2 million in federal money to support a community shared solar power pilot program that can provide numerous community members with solar power.

  • Increase energy efficiency in buildings and other facilities, and electrify heating systems. Municipalities throughout the region have reduced energy use and costs by retrofitting public facilities with energy efficient systems. To meet sustainability goals, Oak Lawn officials have replaced the village’s street lights with high efficiency fixtures.

  • Implement open space protection and land management practices that sequester carbon and stem the release of carbon stored in soils. Officials in Geneva and Kane County acquired hundreds of acres to create the Prairie Green Preserve to protect open space and its carbon-absorbing effects, as well as improve stormwater management and provide more recreational opportunities.

U.S. CO2 emissions by sector (2014) graphic

CMAP will continue to research and share how to achieve these climate goals. This work will require a combination of strategies, investments, and action. The longer it takes to implement these strategies, the more drastic implementation will need to be to minimize the negative effects of a changing climate.

CMAP has begun to examine the region’s transportation network and potential pathways for achieving a cleaner transportation system. We applaud the Illinois Department of Transportation for pursuing alternative fuels corridors along Interstates 94 and 80. We are working with the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus and others to craft climate mitigation strategies that local governments can adopt and implement. For the project, local, national, and international partners are assessing different ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the region.

Decision-makers at all levels can lend support and take direct action. They can:

  • Advocate for federal and state recovery efforts that advance climate mitigation and resilience, and demand flexible funds for local efforts. The U.S. Climate Alliance is doing that and organizing support from governors, including Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

  • Craft policies and regulations to enable community-level investments that advance clean energy initiatives. Ensure that equitable solutions that provide opportunity for all are prioritized.

  • Advance low carbon and clean energy infrastructure projects, including grid modernization, electric vehicle-charging infrastructure, solar installations, and energy-efficiency upgrades to buildings and facilities.

  • Help create and fill sustainable jobs through workforce and economic development initiatives, from management to technology and data management to skilled labor and construction trades.

  • Partner with the private sector to leverage public funding to attract more private investment. Working together across private and public sectors is key.

Individually and collectively, we must take this unique opportunity to reduce carbon emissions. Some of the largest players in the corporate, financial, and insurance industries have made progress on a low-carbon economy by taking pollution and climate risk into account when making business decisions. It will take bold leadership and broad resolve across public and private sectors to move our region toward a clean future.

 


[2] Incidentally, the EU is providing funding for technical support for the GCoM-MMC-CMAP partnership intended to advance regional climate planning in the U.S.

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Aug 21, 2020

Reimagining an economic recovery with a low-carbon future

There’s an opportunity right now for a massive infrastructure investment plan that would upgrade electricity systems and public transportation, and electrify our industries. That could create immediate employment and long-term economic value, and shift the world to a low-carbon future.” Emily Kirsch, CEO and Founder, Powerhouse[1]


The COVID-19 pandemic continues to hinder economic progress throughout northeastern Illinois and the nation, disrupting many people’s livelihoods in the process. Economic recovery and stabilization, followed by massive stimulus to restart the economy, are urgently needed. An infusion of public funding, combined with a comprehensive policy approach at the federal and state levels, could lead us through the ongoing climate crisis and move us toward a sustainable future.

In line with global climate goals, ON TO 2050, the long-range plan for northeastern Illinois, set a target for the region to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050 (Figure 1). To achieve that target, the region will need to work with state and federal officials to reverse the effects of our business-as-usual trajectory. Climate change is a disruptive force, compounding and exacerbating existing environmental, transportation, and other challenges. As one example, more frequent and severe floods in recent years have caused major road, rail, and utility outages; disrupted freight activity; and added financial burdens on residents and businesses, particularly in disinvested communities.

Northeastern Illinois' 2050 emissions reduction goal

Through intentional investments in a low-carbon future, our region can strengthen its resilience, make northeastern Illinois more competitive globally, and equip our diverse workforce with skills that can meet modern demands. Stimulus funding could spring new job opportunities in clean energy, one of the country’s fastest growing industries. A clean electricity system over the next 15 years could support more than a half million new net jobs per year, add $1.7 trillion into the national economy, and boost domestic manufacturing. One study found that five additional jobs would be created with every $1 million in spending shifted from fossil fuels to clean energy. The pandemic presents a rare opportunity for policymakers not only to stabilize the economy in the near future, but transform it in a sustainable way.

 

Reimagining economic recovery

Instead of falling back on yesterday’s economic model and resulting pollution emissions, we can take a giant step toward a low-carbon future. Models exist that could be adapted and scaled for use in the region. Europe, perhaps, has the best examples of serious investment in a low-carbon future — an issue the European Union and its member countries have led globally for decades. As one example, the European Union committed $800 billion earlier this year to an economic stimulus that includes green strategies.[2]

In the U.S., states continue to work together to invest in mitigation. The Transportation and Climate Initiative of Northeast and Mid-Atlantic States partnership is a multi-state voluntary cooperative that seeks to improve transportation, develop a clean energy economy, and reduce carbon emissions from the transportation sector. Regional policies and programs to achieve these goals include its Cap-and-Invest strategy, which invests carbon tax revenue in clean transportation projects.

U.S. history has shown the value of integrating environmental jobs and improvements into recovery efforts. The New Deal of the 1930s funded massive public works investments, including the creation of the Civilian Conservation Corps. Employing three million workers over nine years, the corps made environmental and recreational improvements to national parks and other public spaces.

During the 1950s and 1960s, the federal government reshaped the way we live, work, and travel in metropolitan areas by investing billions of dollars in large-scale highway projects, mortgage subsidies, loan guarantees, and public housing. More recently, the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) directed nearly $100 billion toward a clean-energy economy through investments in the solar, wind, and electric vehicle industries. Although production shifted offshore after federal support dwindled after 2016, investors continue to see wind and solar power as solid investments, even at times of market volatility.

Even with climate change, one of the ultimate goals of a recovery must be putting Americans back to work. Locally, the pandemic arrived just as movement toward climate action seemed to be accelerating. Many believed we were on the verge of a major step forward with passage of the Clean Energy Jobs Act. This legislation would enhance the Renewable Portfolio Standards (Illinois Power Agency). Illinois’ new capital bill and its FY2021 budget also include funding for clean transportation, energy efficiency, and clean energy jobs. Our region still has room to improve, especially since other metropolitan areas saw greater improvements to air quality during the coronavirus shutdown earlier this year. Stronger investments are needed to dramatically reduce emissions, and support sustained job growth and creation.

 

Climate + equity challenge

The effects of climate change will continue to expose longstanding inequities in northeastern Illinois, similar to how COVID-19 has revealed deep disparities in health outcomes and health care access. CMAP has found that communities of color in the region already are more likely to experience urban flooding due to extreme rainfall. Additional research indicates that low-income communities face increased risk of fire, droughts and floods, and hurricanes — all of which are projected to increase and intensify with climate change. Higher levels of economic and social vulnerability often mean disinvested communities are the least prepared to respond.

Fighting climate change addresses equity on multiple levels. It prevents further harm to the lives and property of those living in disadvantaged communities, where there may be poor air quality due to burning fossil fuels nearby. Equity and environmental justice goals also must be integrated into a clean energy work plan. For example, retrofitting or constructing energy-efficient affordable housing can provide shelter for unemployed residents and residents with lower incomes, and lower utility bills.

 

Multiple strategies are essential

To advance climate goals, large-scale change needs to happen in the four sectors that emit most of the world’s greenhouse gases. Electricity generation, transportation, commercial and residential buildings, and industry (Figure 2) are responsible for 75 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the world. Progress toward GHG emissions reductions can be achieved through large-scale transformations, some of which are already underway in the region, including:

  • Develop an electrified transportation system, as well as shift to alternative fuels and improved fuel economy. Communities in northeastern Illinois already are taking the lead on this issue. In Downers Grove, most of the village’s vehicle fleet uses some form of alternative fuel like biodiesel and ethanol.

  • Shift from using single-occupancy vehicles toward transit and other forms of mobility. As one example, Chicago encouraged bicycling by launching the Divvy bike sharing program. Now with 600 stations and 6,000 bikes, the popular program recently started expanding to the far South Side.

  • Ease peak travel times and congestion through more remote work and staggered start times. The region experienced some benefits of this change when Illinois’ stay-at-home order took effect in March. Air quality improved slightly and long travel times diminished.

  • Change electricity generation from fossil fuels to low- and no-carbon fuels, such as wind and solar. For example, Cook County received $1.2 million in federal money to support a community shared solar power pilot program that can provide numerous community members with solar power.

  • Increase energy efficiency in buildings and other facilities, and electrify heating systems. Municipalities throughout the region have reduced energy use and costs by retrofitting public facilities with energy efficient systems. To meet sustainability goals, Oak Lawn officials have replaced the village’s street lights with high efficiency fixtures.

  • Implement open space protection and land management practices that sequester carbon and stem the release of carbon stored in soils. Officials in Geneva and Kane County acquired hundreds of acres to create the Prairie Green Preserve to protect open space and its carbon-absorbing effects, as well as improve stormwater management and provide more recreational opportunities.

U.S. CO2 emissions by sector (2014) graphic

CMAP will continue to research and share how to achieve these climate goals. This work will require a combination of strategies, investments, and action. The longer it takes to implement these strategies, the more drastic implementation will need to be to minimize the negative effects of a changing climate.

CMAP has begun to examine the region’s transportation network and potential pathways for achieving a cleaner transportation system. We applaud the Illinois Department of Transportation for pursuing alternative fuels corridors along Interstates 94 and 80. We are working with the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus and others to craft climate mitigation strategies that local governments can adopt and implement. For the project, local, national, and international partners are assessing different ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the region.

Decision-makers at all levels can lend support and take direct action. They can:

  • Advocate for federal and state recovery efforts that advance climate mitigation and resilience, and demand flexible funds for local efforts. The U.S. Climate Alliance is doing that and organizing support from governors, including Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

  • Craft policies and regulations to enable community-level investments that advance clean energy initiatives. Ensure that equitable solutions that provide opportunity for all are prioritized.

  • Advance low carbon and clean energy infrastructure projects, including grid modernization, electric vehicle-charging infrastructure, solar installations, and energy-efficiency upgrades to buildings and facilities.

  • Help create and fill sustainable jobs through workforce and economic development initiatives, from management to technology and data management to skilled labor and construction trades.

  • Partner with the private sector to leverage public funding to attract more private investment. Working together across private and public sectors is key.

Individually and collectively, we must take this unique opportunity to reduce carbon emissions. Some of the largest players in the corporate, financial, and insurance industries have made progress on a low-carbon economy by taking pollution and climate risk into account when making business decisions. It will take bold leadership and broad resolve across public and private sectors to move our region toward a clean future.

 


[2] Incidentally, the EU is providing funding for technical support for the GCoM-MMC-CMAP partnership intended to advance regional climate planning in the U.S.

To Top
Reimagining an economic recovery with a low-carbon future - CMAP