Time for Chicago and other global cities to re-commit to climate action.
Since this summer’s announcement that the US would pull out of the Paris Agreement, the City of Chicago and 376 other US mayors – representing some 67 million residents -- have doubled down and recommitted themselves and their cities to carry out the global environmental goals outlined in the Paris Accord in 2015.
As a next step, Chicago hosted the inaugural Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy’s North American Summit, bookended by Chicago’s own Community Climate Forum at the Field Museum and the 2017 C40 Cities Bloomberg Philanthropies Award, which closed the summit.
So what does this all mean for Chicago?
First, it means agencies and organizations like The Nature Conservancy, The Field Museum and the many other key groups who participated in these forums are already working hand-in-hand to create and build upon ongoing strategies to adapt to climate change and to lessen the severity of expected warming.
We are working together to strengthen partnerships with each other to reduce the impacts of stormwater often caused by increased, intense rainfall. We are building upon our partnership with the Department of Natural Resources that creates green jobs for Chicagoans and restores wildlife habitat to a southside recreational area. And we are working with local companies to help them explore how to best prepare for future climate impacts and to mitigate the potential for future warming.
We are working with the Chicago Park District to plant native trees and plants across the city, and exploring ongoing relationships with faith-based groups like Faith in Place – an organization that inspires religious people of diverse faiths to care for the Earth – to connect us to the core of the communities we serve. These are just a few ways that collective cooperation between agencies is making a difference in Chicago.
The Climate Forum, sponsored by the MacArthur Foundation and supported by a host of community groups, gathered more than 50 Chicago-area environmental and community organizations to explore resilience, restoration, energy efficiency, activism and sustainable food.
We know that nature can play a key role in mitigating the effects of climate change: A Conservancy study demonstrated that nature-based solutions provide up to 37 percent of the emission reductions needed by 2030 to keep the global temperature increases under 2 degrees Celsius – the widely recognized target of the Paris Climate Agreement. The study, featured in the October issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, also found that using cost-effective solutions, nature’s mitigation potential is estimated at 11.3 billion tons of CO2e in 2030 – the equivalent of stopping burning oil globally.
There are consequences to taking no action. A Citigroup report last year indicates that failing to act could cost the global GDP about $44 trillion by 2060. But if we DO act, in the US alone, clean energy and transportation policies could save us some $250 million per year by reducing premature deaths and healthcare costs associated with air pollution.
For Chicago, average temperatures have risen by 2.6 degrees since 1980. With no action, Chicago could be dealing with three times as many 90-plus-degree days, if not more. Rains of 1.5 inches or more have increased, with projections of 2.5 inch rainfalls ramping up by 50 percent in the next 20 years. With no action, the City will experience more extreme heat, heavier, damaging rain, growing flood risks with associated damage to infrastructure like roads and public transportation, and a greater stress on public health.
However, Chicago was the perfect backdrop for the Climate Summit – in which mayors and global climate leaders spell out the terms of and sign the Chicago Climate Charter -- as we have a long, robust history of implementing mitigation and adaptive solutions.
The Conservancy’s 60-year presence in Chicago has energized numerous projects and partnerships, including the Chicago Wilderness’ lauded Climate Action Plan for Nature in 2010 that focused on the mitigation of climate impacts and adaptive natural solutions using practices ranging from water conservation, climate-friendly gardens and stewardship.
But there is more work to be done.
The Forum and the Summit served as an opportunity for participating cities to reevaluate, revitalize and recommit to our carbon emissions reduction goals as leaders and protectors of the next generation. Mayors from Paris, Montreal, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Austin and even President Barack Obama joined many from around the country and globe in Chicago to be re-inspired by our City’s long-running commitment to this work, address concerns of often underrepresented voices in the climate conversation, and share their own city challenges and success.
We know this work cannot be done in isolation or without action at all levels – government, organizations and residents. We encourage Chicagoans to connect to nature, connect to the City’s web pages on sustainability and climate planning and connect to an agency that is doing conservation and climate work that you can support.
Michelle Carr is the State Director for The Nature Conservancy in Illinois.