The Next Chapter in the Climate Fight for Chicago

Chicago skyline

Steven Miller via Flickr, CC BY 4.0

Chicago just released a new Climate Action Plan this week that lays out its long-term strategy for how to address some of the biggest climate challenges facing the third-largest city in the country. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) latest report on the climate crisis makes it clear that we have no time to waste to ensure the health, safety, and well-being of future generations. Major cities across the world must be at the forefront of reducing carbon emissions and building communities resilient to the impacts of climate change.

This plan updates the city’s 2008 Climate Action Plan and builds on Illinois’s recently passed landmark climate bill, the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act (CEJA), by mirroring CEJA’s focus on equitably reducing carbon emissions in Black, Latino, and working-class communities disproportionately impacted by the effects of climate change. The 2022 Climate Action Plan allocates $188 million from the city’s fiscal budget to carbon emissions reduction strategies and sets the goal of reducing the city’s emissions by 62 percent by 2040. It makes significant commitments to:

  • Transition the city to 100 percent clean renewable energy community wide by 2035;
  • Invest in co-owned community solar projects and renewables;
  • Divert 90 percent of residential waste by 2040;
  • Enable 100 percent electrification of delivery fleets and the city’s own transportation fleet;
  • Electrify 30 percent of total existing residential buildings by 2035; and
  • Support all-electric new buildings as early as next year with the goal of enabling net-zero carbon construction by 2040.

The process around the development of Chicago’s Climate Action Plan relied on input and suggestions from local grassroots organizations, including Blacks in Green, Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, and People for Community Recovery, whose perspectives have long been crucial in centering the impacts that climate change and pollution have on Chicagoans, especially those living in vulnerable communities.

Since the biggest impacts are borne by communities of color, in Chicago and around the globe, those communities should be at the table when crafting climate action policies.

While this new plan is a bold step forward, the gravity of the crisis demands a broader lens that incorporates a wider set of concerns and potential impacts voiced by frontline communities.

Community Concerns

Chicago’s environmental justice communities have offered a set of holistic recommendations to more adequately address environmental justice concerns and also look beyond the topics and approaches currently outlined in the 2022 Climate Action Plan. These comments could serve as a guide for the plan’s long-term implementation, and ultimate success.

As the city makes progress on this next phase of the plan, community oversight and inclusion will not only be essential for ensuring implementation is approached and executed in a way that includes and centers Chicago’s communities but also for enacting an ambitious set of policies that will address persistent environmental, health, and quality of life issues facing local residents.

Environmental justice communities are asking the city to comprehensively address issues like the cumulative impacts of pollution on communities, the city’s procurement process—which currently does not require a formal review of environmental compliance when evaluating bids from vendors and suppliers for industrial products such as asphalt—and reversing the trend of concentrating high-pollution transportation centers in frontline communities.

Chicago took an important step this week. The voices of its communities are the city’s biggest strengths and will only make the implementation of this plan and other climate policies stronger.

About the Authors

Valeria Rincon

Schneider Fellow, Midwest Region, Climate & Clean Energy Program

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