Evanston is falling behind on its climate goals, but a task force dedicated to helping the city implement its Climate Action and Resilience Plan, or CARP, will meet at 4 pm Wednesday to help the city catch up.
During the virtual meeting, the CARP Implementation Task Force, which is a working group within the city’s Environment Board, will discuss plans that Evanston’s Sustainability and Resilience Coordinator Cara Pratt presented at a City Council meeting last week about the state of the city’s benchmarks.
The city passed the plan four years ago, and to this day, only nine other Illinois municipalities have implemented a climate action plan, according to data by educational nonprofit Zero Energy Project. Its goal is to create a “climate-ready and resilient city” by 2050, but Pratt told Evanston officials that the city is not on track to meet all of its CARP goals.
For instance, the city is neither on track to reach carbon neutrality for municipal operations by 2035 nor will it hit zero waste for municipal operations by 2030.
Still, Pratt, the only city staffer in her department, said she has a tentative plan to help put things back on track.
Her CARP Implementation Update was presented at the April 25 City Council meeting.
“The urgency for action on climate action is growing,” said Pratt then. Yet, she said the city government is still well-positioned to implement creative climate legislation that has a tangible impact on the community.
She shared a roadmap for implementing the new plan over the next three years. Pratt also provided an overview of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions, which she said are down by 35% since 2005.
A significant portion of this drop occurred during the pandemic, which saw an 11% drop in emissions from 2019 to 2020, Pratt said. City staff consider the pandemic data to be anomalous, and look to the three-year average emissions drop of 27% between 2018 and 2020 as a better indicator for progress.
This reduction is primarily due to Evanston’s electric grid becoming cleaner, as the city replaces coal with more natural and renewable gas, Pratt said.
On track vs. off track
Pratt also listed specific CARP goals and how those are progressing.
She added that the city has already reached one of its goals: It achieved 100% renewable electricity for municipal operations by 2020. This is mostly due to the city purchasing renewable energy credits, which organizations or municipalities can buy to offset their greenhouse gas emissions.
“However, as purists within the environmental movement will tell you, the additionality of local renewable energy is also important and better reflects the ethos of this goal,” Pratt said.
According to Pratt, the city is on track to:
- Reduce building energy consumption by 25% by 2025.
- Achieving 100% renewable energy supply for all properties by 2030.
But the city is falling behind on:
- Achieving zero waste for municipal operations by 2030. This means diverting all municipal operations waste from the landfill.
- Achieving carbon neutrality, or net-zero carbon dioxide emissions, for municipal operations by 2035. Carbon neutrality is done by either cutting carbon emission entirely, or by balancing emissions with carbon removal. Maximizing rooftop solar installations on city buildings could help the city reach this goal.
- Increasing the community waste diversion rate to 50% by 2025, 75% by 2035, and 100% by 2050. This rate represents the amount of waste that ends up in landfills. Currently, only 24% of waste is diverted from landfills.
- Electrifying 50% of buses and fleets by 2025. Although the city has committed to electrifying city vehicles, this goal also asks Metra, CTA, Pace and other fleet owners to also begin electrifying their fleet.
- Planting 500 new trees by 2025, 1,000 by 2035, and 2,000 by 2050. In addition to planting new trees, all old, sick or removed trees must be replaced.
The city has not collected enough data to verify progress:
- Reducing the miles traveled by all Evanstonians 20% by 2025, 35% by 2035 and 50% by 2050.
- Reducing every resident’s carbon footprint by at least 10% by 2025, 25% by 2035 and 50% by 2050. A carbon footprint refers to the amount of carbon dioxide generated by a person’s daily activities. But it’s tricky to track the progress of this goal.
These goals all aim to mitigate the effects of climate change, however, CARP is also committed to climate resilience, which is more challenging to quantify, Pratt said.
There are ongoing projects related to environmental justice and investments in resilient infrastructure and preparedness that work towards climate resilience, she added.
Pratt’s roadmap for CARP goals
Although Pratt is not the decision-maker when it comes to CARP implementation, she mapped out the next three years, listing tentative goals for each year.
Action items included: implementing a zero-emissions strategy for city operations as well as a zero-waste plan, contemplating a stormwater utility fee and launching an electrification campaign.
Council members responded positively and expressed their support for Pratt and her work.
“You’re here to let us know what we need to do,” said 5th Ward Council Member Bobby Burns. “I just want to let you know that I think this body really is looking at you.” Burns said the more drastic the climate policy, the better.
Council Member Jonathan Nieuwsma, 4th Ward, also talked about Pratt’s work and the drastic change needed: “If we are going to get to our zero carbon by 2050 goal, the work is going to get harder. We are going to have to ask more of the community.”
The city government must play a leading role to ensure that the whole community takes the commitment seriously, and is changing its behavior to make that happen, he said.
Speaking to the cost of implementing some of CARP’s goals, Pratt said the city will need to raise hundreds of millions of dollars. But creative financing solutions will ensure that taxpayers don’t bear the full burden, she explained.
Without urgent climate action at the local, national and global levels, Evanston could see storms and flooding in addition to extreme heat and cold weather, she added.
“Now is an opportune time to remind ourselves why we invest in climate action and resilience,” said Pratt. “To put it simply, we can and we must.”
“And we will,” added Nieuwsma.