December 08, 2017
4 Ways Chicago Can Lead the Climate Change Fight
By: HOWARD A. LEARNER
President Donald Trump has walked away from climate change reality. But, fortunately for all of us, American cities like Chicago are stepping up. The recent North American Climate Summit here brought together 50-plus mayors to sign the Chicago Climate Charter, committing to take initiatives to help meet the Paris Climate Agreement’s pollution reduction goals.
As former President Barack Obama said at the event, cities, states, businesses and nonprofits have emerged as the new face of American leadership on climate change. Chicago’s climate action plan calls for reducing greenhouse gas pollution by 25 percent from 1990 levels by 2020, and new clean technologies provide even more opportunities for progress.
But the hard and most important work comes next: transforming these declarations and sincere aspirations into real actions that reduce carbon pollution in ways that achieve environmental and economic development together. Sooner, not later.
At the summit, Chicago shined brightly under Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s leadership. Here are four ways that Chicago can advance its leadership and transform its public commitments into meaningful and measurable climate actions that benefit all Chicagoans, join with other large cities and set a model for small and midsize cities to replicate.
First, the city of Chicago should procure 100 percent renewable energy for municipal electricity needs by 2022, not wait until 2025. The Midwest has abundant wind power, and solar energy and energy storage capacity is accelerating as prices fall while technologies improve. Chicago and other Illinois cities can work together on coordinated purchases from new Illinois clean renewable projects. Both our environment and Illinois’ 450-plus clean energy supply chain businesses should benefit.
Second, clean up municipal fleets. All new purchases should be electric vehicles except in special cases. Our nation’s transportation sector now produces more carbon pollution than the electric power sector. Cities can create demand to drive the EV market forward while reducing pollution. EVs have fewer moving parts and lower operating maintenance costs than internal combustion engine vehicles. Using wind and solar energy to power EV charging stations accelerates a cleaner transportation system. Chicago and 29 other cities are exploring joint EV procurement. Let’s clean up CTA buses and Illinois school buses, too. Chicago’s on the path—do it now.
Third, use cleaner fuels for existing diesel trucks and buses. At the summit, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee touted how the city and county fleets have switched to renewable biodiesel fuel to reduce carbon pollution. Cleaner fuels warrant a serious look here. Let’s tap the expertise of Chicago’s universities, national labs and engineering firms. These are big pollution savings opportunities for Chicago and other Midwest cities.
Fourth, energy efficiency is the best, fastest and cheapest climate change solution. The Retrofit Chicago program, which focuses on improving buildings’ efficiency, won a C40 Cities Bloomberg award at the summit. (Home court advantage acknowledged.) Let’s accelerate and max out. Why wait? The time has never been better for cities to reduce their energy bills and cut pollution through energy efficiency improvements. What’s more, efficiency creates installation jobs, produces cost savings, keeps money in our neighborhoods and avoids pollution.
What’s the time frame? Soon—climate change is taking its toll with more extreme weather events. Let’s implement these municipal declarations through rapid effective actions to reduce carbon pollution in ways that achieve environmental and economic development goals together. And let’s work together to turn words into tangible actions, accelerate measurable progress and help advance the Paris Climate Agreement goals. Chicago and partner cities can lead while Trump lags.
Howard A. Learner is president and executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center.