How your community can use planning to act on climate change

Human-generated greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are the primary driver of climate change. ON TO 2050, the region’s long-range plan, sets a goal to reduce emissions by 80 percent by 2050. To do that, we need to understand GHG emissions in northeastern Illinois, which is why the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) regularly conducts an inventory for the region, the seven counties, and the City of Chicago.

The most recent inventory found that the region’s emissions decreased an average of 1 percent annually between 2010 and 2019. Achieving ON TO 2050’s goal will require a reduction of roughly 5 percent every year through 2050.

Achieving the necessary emissions reductions will require largescale action, and each of northeastern Illinois’ 7 counties, 284 communities, and 77 Chicago communities has a role to play. Having a solid emissions baseline is crucial for developing a plan to address climate change. But conducting a comprehensive inventory of greenhouse gas emissions generated in a community takes time and money that could otherwise be spent on implementing emissions reduction strategies.

That’s why, for the first time, CMAP has created local emissions summaries for every county, municipality, and Chicago community area. These summaries make available the most important emissions data and climate indicators for every community of the region — free of charge.

The local summaries are not full inventories — railroads, aviation, agriculture, and off-road transportation (construction equipment, lawn mowers, etc.) are not included — so they should be seen as secondary to any location-specific inventories. But for most communities, they provide enough information to get started.

The data in the summaries are for 2019, just before the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. This provides a solid baseline for where emissions stood prior to pandemic-related transportation and energy consumption shifts

How to use the emissions summary in your community

The local emissions summaries are intended to support actions to address climate change. This work will look different in each community, but will generally include the following steps:

Assess emissions totals and sources

The local summaries provide information from on-road transportation, electricity, natural gas, and waste. This information helps you understand the emissions produced in your community and how they compare to the county or City of Chicago.

If one sector, such as commercial electricity, represents a large share of your total, or has a significantly higher per capita emissions rate than your county, it may be a sign that more action is needed in that area. 

Review your local climate or sustainability plan

Many communities in northeastern Illinois have a sustainability or climate action plan. These documents typically include emissions sources, climate hazards, and strategies for addressing them. The information included in the local emissions summaries can be helpful for prioritizing which strategies to implement first.

Communities that do not have their own climate action plan should consult the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus’s Climate Action Plan for the Chicago Region, which outlines actions that local governments can take to reduce emissions and prepare for climate change. Chicagoans should look at the city’s Climate Action Plan, which outlines citywide goals and creates a framework for neighborhood-wide action.

Identify and prioritize strategies with residents

Your climate planning process should include continued public engagement and collaboration with residents and stakeholders, especially members of historically underserved or disinvested communities. They are most likely to live in areas affected by air pollution, so it is important they are included in the decision-making process and can fully benefit from the programs and projects you initiate. Engage residents and stakeholders to understand their needs and collectively identify strategies that address both climate change and community concerns. Then, include those individuals in the implementation process.

Enact key strategies and build momentum

Once you have identified key strategies, then you must act. Policy-based strategies, such as streamlining approvals for small-scale solar projects or implementing an anti-idling policy, may not require additional funding.

Other initiatives, such as purchasing electric vehicles or improving bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, may require outside funding. CMAP and other partners offer grants that can help implement parts of your action plan:

When submitting a grant application or funding request, it may be helpful to cite CMAP’s local emissions summary and regional GHG emissions inventory, or any local climate action or sustainability plans. There are also resources to help you find and secure grant funding:

You should also collaborate with other agencies and stakeholders to see how you can adapt previously planned investments to reduce emissions with little or no additional expense. For example, if you are planning to upgrade municipal vehicles or equipment, it may be possible to take advantage of state or federal incentives to purchase all-electric models.

Stay up to date on CMAP’s climate resources and initiatives

Subscribe to CMAP’s climate newsletter to get updates on funding opportunities, climate resilience planning, new data, and more.