With a mix of younger and older residents pressing for action, Evanston City Council members approved a resolution Monday night declaring a climate emergency and committing to an immediate mobilization effort to restore climate stability.
To applause from audience members, the Evanston City Council voted 7-0 on April 25 in favor of the resolution, which draws on a statement from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change about the dire need for action.
According to the Evanston resolution, the UN panel conservatively estimates that global net greenhouse gas emissions must reach net zero no later than 2050 in order to avoid a dangerous increase in global temperatures that result in long-lasting and/or catastrophic and irreversible climate impacts.
The resolution adopts implementation of the city’s Climate Action and Resilience Plan (CARP) as a council goal and commits to regularly reviewing progress and revising targets to reflect the most recent science, data and best practices.
“This resolution renews our city’s longstanding commitment to climate action and enumerates short-term action steps that will guide our work and allow the community to hold us accountable,” said Mayor Daniel Biss. “We recognize that climate change poses a life-altering threat not only to our city, but to all of humanity, and that continued action is urgently needed to mitigate its short-term and long-term impacts and build community resilience.”
Under the resolution, the city manager will designate a staff member to coordinate implementation of the Climate Action and Resilience Plan, and will report to the City Council, the city’s Environment Board and Evanston residents at least twice a year.
The reports are to show progress made in achieving goals and are intended to identify additional actions, policies and programs that Evanston can undertake.
The resolution also calls on the City Council to ensure that city staff members prioritize decisions and actions that reduce greenhouse gas emissions over those that do not, including emissions from all residences, businesses and other community buildings and activities as well as the city’s own buildings and activities.
The city’s Environment Board drafted the resolution, which had the backing of a wide range of Evanston organizations, including the Environmental Justice Evanston, Citizens’ Greener Evanston, E-Town Sunrise, the District 65 Climate Action Team, the League of Women Voters of Evanston, the Evanston Environmental Association, the Democratic Party of Evanston Climate Action Team, the Citizens Climate Lobby, The Climate Reality Project: Chicago Metro Chapter, 350.org Chicago Chapter and the Beth Emet Dayenu Circle.
“We recognize that city staff have begun implementing parts of the Climate Action and Resilience Plan adopted by [the] City Council in 2018,” the groups said in their statement. “But achieving the goals of that plan requires renewed commitment, adequate resources and far more aggressive action than we’ve seen so far. Meanwhile, the climate forecast grows ever more dire.”
The statement said the latest reports from the UN’s panel are “a damning indictment of failed climate leadership,” and said the resolution “will demonstrate to the Evanston community, to city staff and to neighboring communities that city leaders recognize that climate change is an ever-worsening crisis that requires aggressive and unrelenting action and an investment that matches the scale of the threat it poses.”
‘Not on track’ in some key areas
The council action followed a report from Cara Pratt, the city’s Sustainability and Resilience Coordinator, updating council members on city efforts to put CARP steps into action since 2018.
The city and its partners have made significant progress implementing the CARP plan since that time, Pratt said in a memo and presentation to the council.
Evanston has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 35% since 2005, she said, according to the most recent data, adding that the three-year average of 27% is probably more accurate.
The city’s emissions reductions since that time “are primarily due to the electric grid becoming cleaner and the consistent purchase of renewable energy credits through the city’s electricity aggregation program and by large community partners like Northwestern University.
“The global health pandemic as the result of the coronavirus had a significant impact on Evanston’s emissions inventory, causing a record single year drop in emissions of 11% from 2019 to 2020,” Pratt wrote in the memo. “This massive drop is primarily due to a 38% decrease in gasoline consumption, record low community commercial electricity consumption [15% decrease from 2019] and the second lowest natural gas use ever recorded in Evanston [14% decrease from 2019]. Staff considers 2020 data to be anomalous and expects a more accurate portrayal of Evanston’s progress towards carbon neutrality to be reflected in updated 2021 data, which will be presented to the city,” she said.
Pratt reported that the city had achieved its goal of 100% renewable energy for municipal operations by 2020 through its electricity aggregation program with MC Squared.
The city is not on track, however, on a number of other goals, including:
- Increasing the community diversion rate to 50% by 2025. “Updating the commercial franchise agreement, establishing a textile recycling program and revising the Single-Use Bag Ordinance will contribute to waste diversion rates,” Pratt wrote. “A zero-waste strategy plan is currently under development to establish a roadmap highlighting which waste reduction and diversion strategies the city plans to implement and when to expect implementation.”
- Planting 500 new trees by 2025. Staff estimates that the city has added a negative amount of trees since CARP was adopted in 2018, Pratt said. “This tree loss is due mostly to disease, wind events and voluntary tree removal,” she said, “which is why the community is working toward reconsidering a tree preservation ordinance and also focusing on increased investment in a tree canopy in the city.”
- Reducing community vehicle miles traveled by 20% by 2025. Projects in support of improved walkability and bikeability and reducing vehicle miles traveled, said Pratt, include the Chicago Avenue multi-modal corridor improvements, completing design of the Church Street improvement project, increasing equitable investment
in sidewalk maintenance and infill and establishing a scooter-share pilot program.
- Achieving 50% electric towards the goal of buses and fleets operating in Evanston by 2025. Achieving that goal “requires that Metra, CTA, Pace, and other fleet owners make significant and rapid investments in electrification,” she wrote.
- Evanston is not on track to even understand another goal relating to each resident reducing their carbon footprint by at least 10%, she said. “We have no proxy or understanding for how this whole could be measured,” Pratt told council members. “However, we do have a sense that there is a possibility to continue to educate the community in terms of our sustain Evanston business recognition program that creates best practices and a toolkit for businesses continuing to partner with Northwestern University, districts 65 and 202 and the nonprofit community to help support the schools and educate community members who are interested in reducing their carbon footprint.”
During citizen comment earlier in the meeting, a number of speakers urged council members to adopt the resolution.
Leading off was Foster Pratt (no relation to Cara Pratt), a 16-year-old sophomore at Evanston Township High School.
“’I want to have a livable future,’” he said. “This line was among the testimonies written by high school attendees at ETHS’s first Climate Justice Conference last Wednesday,” Pratt told council members, saying students also asked that the council hold “businesses accountable for their carbon emissions. Health was another issue commonly brought to light, with one student writing, ‘CARP will allow for the children of Evanston to experience a higher quality of life. These actions will also decrease the serious health issues that show up in children at a young age.’”
Jerri Garl, chair of the CARP Task Force, a subcommittee of the Evanston Environment Board, asked for the council’s immediate and unanimous approval of the resolution.
“Many of Evanston’s most difficult intersecting issues are based in inequity and these are exacerbated by climate change,” she said.
She included in the list of issues “frequent and severe storms,” “food scarcity and supply-chain disruptions, the health effects of extreme heat and increased air pollution, reduced access to public transportation and walkability.
“This must change,” she said.
Rachel Rosner, president of Citizens’ Greener Evanston, spoke of attending the United Nations climate conference, where she met leaders from nations on the front lines of this crisis, “nations suffering from prolonged drought and famine now. Nations that are losing their homes and their cultures to sea level rise now. Nations on the global south populated by people of color. As a parent in my work with youth leaders, I’m acutely aware that our kids are carrying a heavy mantle of our making.
“By declaring a climate emergency and behaving accordingly, you will show them that adults are responding appropriately to the magnitude of this crisis,” she said.