Reports & Analysis

A Closer Look at Chicago’s Climate Action Plan

On the heels of the release of Chicago's Climate Action Plan, IEC will break down what’s in the plan, what’s not and what more needs to be done.

In May, the City of Chicago announced its Climate Action Plan (CAP) which sets goals and strategies to reduce the city’s greenhouse gas emissions overall by 62% by 2040. The plan essentially lays out how the city will put to work the $188 million outlined for climate initiatives in the FY2022 budget. The plan is a revamp of the original 2008 plan introduced under then-Mayor Richard M. Daley.

For nearly a year, IEC has worked with the City of Chicago and other advocates to give feedback on CAP strategies, actions and targets and played a significant role in early education on the plan. Additionally, we spearheaded the push to include nature-based climate solutions in the plan, which can go a long way in equitably addressing and mitigating impacts from climate change related events throughout the city.

Overall, the plan includes some ambitious goals and emphasizes investment in climate justice, however, there are still important elements that were not included in the final document. There’s also an overall concern for how the city will hold itself accountable to implementing this plan, especially without a dedicated Department of Environment. You can read more about why we must re-establish a Department of Environment here. 

Below we’ll break down what’s in the plan, what’s not and what happens next with climate action in the city:

Pillar 1: Increase Household Savings. Sets benchmarks to reduce overall building energy use with a focus on households to reduce energy burden and foster overall utility savings and connect homes with renewable energy.

Major highlights:

  • Reduce carbon footprint of commercial, industrial and residential sectors:
    • Retrofit 20% of total industrial buildings by 2030. Industrial buildings accounted  for 16.6% of emissions in 2017.
    • Retrofit 20% of total commercial buildings (restaurants, stores and offices) by 2035. Commercial buildings accounted for 23.5% of total carbon emissions in 2017.
    • Retrofit 20% of total 5+ unit residential buildings by 2030. Residential buildings accounted for 23.5% of the city’s carbon footprint in 2017.
  • Retrofit 90% of total city-owned and sister agency-owned buildings by 2035, such as city hall, police and fire stations, public schools, libraries and government buildings.
  • Increase Chicago-based community renewables to 20 megawatts by 2025.

What’s Missing: A majority of goals for retrofitting extend only to 2035. IEC recommended staggered goals that went all the way to 2050. These were not included in the final plan.

Pillar 2: Build circular economies to create jobs and reduce waste. According to the plan, the collection, transportation, processing, and treatment of solid waste and wastewater account for 7% of Chicago’s GHG emissions.

Major highlights:

  • Divert 90% of commercial, industrial, and institutional waste by 2030
  • Divert 90% of residential waste by 2040
  • Divert 75% of construction and demolition waste by 2030

What’s Missing:

  • Chicago’s recycling rate still remains low at only 9%. While these targets are ambitious there are significant internal, operational changes and funding needed to improve the city’s management of recycling in the long term.

Pillar 3: Deliver a robust zero-emission mobility network that connects communities and improves air quality. In other words, make biking, walking and transit safer and viable for all trips.

Major highlights:

  • Update land use policies to encourage sustainable development, accessibility, and street safety by 2023
  • Electrify all city transit fleets by 2040
  • Increase CTA ridership 20% by 2030
  • Enable 100% electrification of delivery fleets by 2035
  • Support equitable electrification of ride-hail and taxi fleets by 2030  

What’s Missing: 

  • There is the goal of increasing Divvy and shared micro-mobility trips 30% by 2030, however, there are no targets for reducing vehicle miles traveled (VMT) per year. 
  • IEC recommended a benchmark to increase the percentage of electric and zero-emission vehicles in the city to 40% by 2030. This was not included in the final plan.
  • While this pillar highlights much-needed transit and fleet electrification goals, the City should also focus on biking infrastructure, including goals for things like concrete curb-protected bike lanes, raised crosswalks, and fining drivers who block bike lanes and sidewalks.

Pillar 4: Drive equitable development of Chicago’s clean-energy future. Sets benchmarks for electrifying buildings, renewable energy production and storage and expanding electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure. 

Major highlights:

  • Achieve 100% clean renewable energy communitywide by 2035
  • Enable 2,500 new public passenger electric vehicle charging stations by 2035
  • Strengthen policies that support the installation of green roofs and walls, tree planting, and other vegetative cover by 2023
  • Develop a peaker plant (power plant used only when there is a high demand for electricity) transition strategy by 2024
  • Invest in 1,000 megawatts of demand response by 2024 and 3,000 megawatts by 2035

What’s Missing:

  • IEC recommended the city provide public charging stations for every 10-15 EVs through 2050, which was not adopted.

Pillar 5: Strengthen communities and protect health.

Major Highlights:

  • Publish citywide and community-level quality-of-life metrics on equity and sustainability by 2023
  • Integrate community resilience and climate justice criteria into department-level strategic planning and annual budget setting by 2023
  • Develop a Heat Vulnerability Index and integrate into planning and development, community safety, and public health planning processes beginning in 2023

Overall What’s Missing 

We cannot forget the disproportionate impact climate change and its solutions have on Black, Latinx and low income communities across the city. Taking the lead from our environmental justice partners at the Chicago Environmental Justice Network (CEJN), here are some things the plan did not quite touch on:

  • The plan does not address Chicago’s problematic permitting process. CEJN, recommended the final plan include participatory decision-making in the permitting process, however it was not included.
  • The plan lacks strategic actions to decommission fossil fuel peaker plants. Peaker plants supply additional power when there’s a high demand for electricity. 
  • CEJN recommended more transparency and accountability baked into the demolition process to prevent incidents like the botched Hilco implosion in 2020. These recommendations did not make it into the final plan.
  • Changes to the procurement process should go beyond contracting with Business enterprises owned by women, minorities & disadvantaged populations. In selecting bids, the city should adopt emissions, health and climate standards to determine hiring the best contractor. One example of problematic procurement is the current bid for asphalt production by MAT Asphalt which has a long history of polluting the surrounding neighborhood. Neighbors for Environmental Justice, members of CEJN, has an ongoing campaign to shut down the facility 
  • The plan additionally lacked long term approaches to address water affordability and access. With a changing climate, we expect more pressures on the water system as residents from drought-ridden states and even towns within Illinois flock to the Chicagoland area due to our proximity to Lake Michigan. Water conservation is crucial to ensure abundant and affordable water for Chicagoans.

Overall the Climate Action Plan sets ambitious goals and well-thought-out strategies however, it does miss some necessary reforms and coordination needed to advance environmental justice, equity and transparency which our environmental justice partners have repeatedly called for. 

Finally, the plan and related policies will require significant collaboration across multiple departments including, Department of Health, Department of Buildings, Department of Housing and the Chicago Park District, to move together toward these shared goals. It’s hard to envision how the city will effectively carry out this work without a Department of Environment dedicated to tackling climate change and environmental issues broadly with the cross-department coordination required. 

We maintain that establishing a Department of the Environment will be key to successfully implementing the city’s Climate Action Plan and ensuring an environmentally safe and healthy Chicago for every neighborhood. Chicagoans can click here to contact Mayor Lightfoot and your alderperson in support of the re-establishment of a Department of Environment.

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