Climate change is a topic that can leave even the calmest among us with a sense of anxiety. Without a doubt, this is a critical moment. Failing to act now could have devastating consequences, especially for the most vulnerable. Yet, there is significant momentum on the policy front—creating opportunities that call for action and hope. Huge advances at the national and state level have the potential to catalyze much needed change.
Millions of Dollars Mobilized for Climate Investments
At the national level, Congress passed a $1 trillion infrastructure bill that will mobilize millions of dollars for climate investments on the ground. In Illinois, recent passage of the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act puts the state on the path to 100% clean energy by 2050. Taken together, these developments could be transformative, providing the building blocks for sustainable, resilient, and equitable Illinois communities.
While passing these bills is an essential first step, implementation will be the key to their success. It is vital that money flowing from the infrastructure package reaches impactful projects—projects led by passionate community organizers, scientists, and leaders with the knowhow to get the work done.
Aligning newfound resources from the infrastructure package with Illinois’ new climate policy is of utmost importance. Careful attention is needed to ensure that spending stimulates a swift transition to an equitable clean energy economy, maximizing benefits for communities who have endured the brunt of the environmental burden.
Transportation and Greenhouse Gas Emissions
The overhaul of Illinois’ transportation sector—the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the state—is a primary concern. Investments are needed to expand and electrify public transportation systems across the state, which can deliver significant emissions reductions, reduce exposure to air pollution, and expand access.
Beyond mass transit, it will also be critical to electrify cars and trucks and to strategically build out the necessary charging network in rural and urban areas. From the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, Illinois is projected to receive $149 million over five years to bolster electric vehicle charging networks across the state, and $4 billion over five years to improve public transportation across the state. The Climate and Equitable Jobs Act creates investments and sets a goal of getting a million electric vehicles on the road in Illinois by 2030. Actions like these not only reduce greenhouse gas emissions but also reduce air pollution and strengthen mass transit systems -- all critical from an equity standpoint.
Building Resilient Communities with Nature Based Solutions
Advancing a clean energy future must be coupled with innovative ideas, like using nature-based solutions to help Illinois communities adapt to the impacts of climate change they are already experiencing. Frequent and more severe flooding already costs Illinois communities hundreds of millions of dollars each year, and these losses are likely to continue without immediate intervention and adequate funding. With multiple economic, environmental, and social benefits, expanding our investments to include natural infrastructure can help us tackle these challenges more quickly and cost effectively —not only reducing risks from floods, but also providing clean and reliable water supplies and improving inland waterways.
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is an important step forward, standardizing the traditional definition of natural infrastructure and thus, expanding opportunities to incentivize this practice, such as through disaster relief funding. Investing in natural infrastructure is critical to protect both nature and vulnerable communities from the worst effects of climate change.
Strengthening the Economy with Clean Energy Jobs
Investments in clean energy can also improve the economic strength of the state. Illinois’ new climate legislation includes key provisions to ensure that emerging jobs in the clean energy sector benefit everyone. The state bill allocates $80 million per year for workforce and contractor development programs targeted in equity focused communities, including the creation of 13 workforce development hubs across Illinois. These hubs will provide job training and a career pipeline for equity-eligible individuals.
Labor statistics underpin the demand for additional job training in the clean energy industry. According to a report by Clean Jobs Midwest, the state’s clean energy sector grew by 7% in the second half of 2020 and clean energy companies employed 115,133 Illinoisans at the end of 2020. Monitoring enactment of job training programs and provisions in both the state and federal packages ensure that career opportunities benefit all Illinois residents and enable a just transition to a clean energy future.
With new ideas being set in motion, Illinois is poised to lead in the effort to tackle climate change. It will require collaboration from all key stakeholders, community members, and legislators. These new developments are cause for hope. Now it is the time for an all-hands-on deck effort to harness these opportunities and ensure the transition to a sustainable, resilient, and equitable future is achieved. Leveraging this momentum effectively will have long-lasting implications not just for the state of Illinois, but for generations to come.