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A draft report titled “Climate Action and Resilience Plan” recommends interim goals and actions that Evanston should take to achieve carbon neutrality in the community by 2050. To achieve carbon neutrality will require not only actions by the City, but participation by everyone in the community. The report also identifies potential threats the community may face due to climate change and proposes ways to address them. 

In September 2017, Mayor Stephen Hagerty established a Climate Action and Resilience Plan Working Group to develop the plan. During the last year, the 17-member group drafted the plan, with input from residents and local organizations and assistance from City staff. Joel Freeman and Lauren Marquez-Viso are co-chairs of the working group.

The City of Evanston “is committed to taking immediate and decisive action to reduce the impact on climate change and to prepare the community for an uncertain future climate,” says the report. “In order to make progress on those commitments, this plan will chart a path forward.”

The plan adheres to the overall targets previously established by the City for reducing greenhouse gas emissions on a community-wide basis: a 50% reduction by 2025, an 80% reduction by 2035, and a 100% reduction by 2050, which is said to equal carbon neutrality. 

In addition to reaching carbon neutrality by 2050, other goals include achieving 100% renewable electricity for all Evanston properties by 2035, and achieving communitywide zero-waste by 2050.

The report focuses on six areas to reduce greenhouse gas emissions: increase building efficiency, increase renewable energy, reduce waste, reduce usage of vehicles and shift to electric vehicles, preserve the City’s urban canopy and greenspace, and educate the public to take meaningful action to fight climate change.

The report says the major threats of climate change for the community are periods of excessive heat and potential flooding, and it proposes ways to meet those challenges.

Three guiding principles of the plan are that it must be “equity centered,” “outcome based” and “cost-effective and affordable.”

Some of the recommended goals and actions to achieve the goals are summarized below.

Building Efficiency Goal – “Reduce building energy consumption by 35% by 2035 (from 2005 levels).”

“Energy usage is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Evanston and accounts for roughly 80% of the community’s entire emissions, says the report. “Overall electricity emissions have reduced significantly since 2005; however, that reduction is primarily due to the purchase of renewable energy credits as well as the overall improvement in emissions factors for the regional power grid (i.e. coal generation being replaced with less carbon intensive generation such as natural gas and renewable energy sources). Overall electricity consumption has remained relatively unchanged since 2005. Natural gas consumption has also remained relatively flat since 2005.”

The first recommended action is to require net-zero greenhouse gas emissions under building codes for “new construction” and “retrofits” by 2025. Energy audits would be conducted as part of the building permit process for building additions and modifications.

Other recommended actions include adopting policies that would require building “retro-commissioning” for larger types of buildings and conducting energy audits for smaller buildings; implementing a program so home buyers would understand the energy performance of homes they are thinking of buying; and increasing water-efficiency and reducing per capita water usage.

Renewable Energy Goal – “Achieve 100% renewable electricity supply for all Evanston accounts by 2035.”

The City has purchased renewable energy credits to work towards this goal, says the report, but “the City also values onsite generation of renewable energy through sources such as wind and solar installations within Evanston.”

The City implemented a Community Choice Electricity Aggregation (Aggregation) program several years ago, and the report recommends that the City explore ways to expand the reach of the program. Aggregation programs allow local governments the option to bundle together residential and small commercial retail electric accounts and seek proposals for a potentially cleaner, cheaper source of power. The report urges the City to continue encouraging energy suppliers to directly invest in renewable energy.

The report also recommends that the City “host a shared solar project or serve as an anchor subscriber to a shared solar project and allow residents and businesses to subscribe to the project.” The report also recommends that School Districts 65 and 202, large employers, and others key institutions serve as anchor subscribers to community solar projects.

There are various subscription models for solar projects. Under one model discussed in a report prepared for the Cook County Community Solar Project, subscribers can be households or businesses who can purchase or lease solar panels, place them on their property, and then get credited on their electric bills for their share of the power generated on their property.

Zero Waste Goal – “Increase community-wide waste diversion rate to 50% by 2025 and 75% by 2035 (from 2011 levels).”

“Disposal of waste only accounts for 2% of community-wide emissions, yet material consumption and corresponding waste systems have significant impacts on the environment and climate change that do not show up in calculations of greenhouse gas emissions,” says the report. The plan proposes developing a Zero Waste Strategy as a primary part of the plan.

Some of the actions include requiring retailers and restaurants to donate  their unused edible food, or to compost non-edible food;  requiring retailers to use biodegradable or recyclable packaging and to phase out single-use plastics, such as straws and stirrers by 2025; revising the ban on disposable plastic shopping bags; enforcing Cook County’s Demolition Debris Diversion ordinance; requiring recycling receptacles be accessible to tenants, patrons, and visitors; and encouraging all properties to engage in a recycling program.

Mobility and Transportation Goal – Reduce vehicle miles, and increase trips made by walking, bicycling and mass transit; and increase the use of electric vehicles and decrease carbon emissions from vehicles and machinery.

Transportation systems accounted for 17.5% of Evanston’s community-wide emissions in 2017, says the report.

The recommended actions include creating “safe, convenient and complete networks” in Evanston  for pedestrians, bicycles and mass transit; building strong bicycle and transit connections between Evanston and its neighboring communities; ensuring that new housing developments encourage the use of traveling by foot, bicycle, and mass transit. 

The actions to increase the use of electric vehicles include  working with neighboring communities to incentivize the development of charging stations for electric vehicles; partnering with fleet operators and mass transit providers to work toward a goal that 50% of the fleets and buses based in Evanston, including school buses, are electric by 2025 and 100% are by 2035.

Other proposed actions include phasing out the use of gas-powered leaf blowers and lawn mowers, and possibly some construction machinery.

Urban Canopy and Green Space Goal – Preserve and restore the canopy and green space.

The report says the presence of trees, natural areas and green space can help mitigate carbon dioxide pollution, provide cooling and shading, absorb storm water run-off, and reduce adverse urban impacts on humans and key species such as birds and pollinators.

To preserve and restore these areas, the report recommends that the community prioritize replacing trees on public property and assist residents with replacing trees on their property; prioritize expanding natural areas throughout the City; and prioritize planting and preserving native species of plant and trees on public and private property through education, incentives and promotional programs.

The report also recommends that the City adopt a tree preservation ordinance that would require a permit to remove a tree on private property, with exceptions for diseased and nuisance trees (The Committee recommends that the City adopt a fee structure that does not overburden income constrained property owners.)

The report also recommends that the zoning code require the preservation of the maximum possible number of existing trees, and the preservation of natural areas whenever possible.

Outreach, Education and Behavior Change – “Educate, motivate and empower Evanston residents, institutions and businesses to take meaningful action to fight climate change and improve the community’s resilience.”

Some recommended actions include engaging both school districts and private schools to explore developing an environmental education integrated curriculum; and establishing a “MyCARP” program for residents to build their own climate action and resilience plans to reduce their carbon footprint.

Primary Threats of Climate Change – Potential Flooding and Heat Waves

To prepare for the potential threat of flooding, the report recommends enhancing the storm water systems to handle an increase in severe weather events, managing storm water before it enters the storm water system, and targeting specific types of infrastructure, such as parking lots, parks, vacant lots, parkways, and grading near sidewalks, to implement “green infrastructure.”

With respect to heat waves, the City has provided cooling centers in the past, and the report the City may do so in the future and also provide information that ensures vulnerable residents are aware of the cooling centers. Another recommendation is to reach out to vulnerable populations to understand their needs and how the City can best assist them.

Partnerships

The report recommends that City partner with Citizens’ Greener Evanston, Evanston Public Library, Com Ed and Nicor, Elevate Energy, and SWANC on specific issues, and that it partner with major employers to collectively implement CARP actions.

To date, Presbyterian Homes, Rotary International, Evanston Community Foundation, Saint Francis Hospital, Northwestern University, and School District 202 have made specific commitments towards climate action. Commitments from School District 65 and NorthShore University Hospital are forthcoming, says the report.

Community Input

Residents may learn more about the draft Climate Action and Resilience Plan and provide input on the draft at three forums: 9 – 11 a.m., Sept. 22, at the Evanston Ecology Center, 2024 McCormick Blvd. (RSVP at cityofevanston.org/climate.); 6:30 – 8:30 p.m., Sept. 26 at Celtic Knot, 626 Church St.; 7 p.m., Sept. 27, Seventh Ward meeting at the Evanston Ecology Center.

After incorporating community input, the final version of the Climate Action and Resilience Plan will be presented to the Evanston City Council by the end of 2018.

A draft of the plan is available at https://www.cityofevanston.org/government/climate.