Evanston OKs ambitious plan on climate change

The Climate Action and Resilience Plan makes the city the first in Illinois and the 100th nationwide to join the Ready for 100 program from the Sierra Club

“We are a leader and we will continue to be a leader in trying to save our planet,” says Evanston Mayor Stephen Hagerty. (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

“We are a leader and we will continue to be a leader in trying to save our planet,” says Evanston Mayor Stephen Hagerty. (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

By Ted Cox

Evanston is leading the way in confronting climate change.

Although overshadowed by Monday’s marathon debate on the Harley Clarke Mansion, the Evanston City Council also approved a new Climate Action and Resilience Plan that could have far more impact over the long term. It calls for the city to adopt 100 percent clean and renewable energy for all municipal operations by 2020 and wholly clean and renewable electricity citywide by 2030.

“We are a leader and we will continue to be a leader in trying to save our planet,” said Mayor Stephen Hagerty after the ambitious new plan passed by a unanimous 9-0 voice vote shortly before midnight Monday.

According to the resolution passed Monday, the plan also calls for the city to cut greenhouse-gas emissions by 28 percent by 2025, in line with the Paris Accords, and have zero waste and total carbon neutrality by 2050.

The city also adopts the Sierra Club’s definition of “clean and renewable energy,” as reflected in the organization’s Ready for 100 initiative calling for cities to commit to plans for 100 percent clean and renewable energy. Evanston thus becomes the first Illinois city to adopt the Ready for 100 guidelines and the 100th nationwide, although the program also claimed two other new cities as well.

“We thank Mayor Hagerty and the Evanston City Council for taking bold steps to address climate change and prioritize an equitable, just transition to 100 percent renewable clean electricity,” said Jack Darin, director of the Sierra Club’s Illinois Chapter and an Evanston resident who took part in the 17-member working group appointed by Hagerty to arrive at the new plan. “As a fellow Evanstonian, I look forward to the Sierra Club’s continued work with the city as it implements the Climate Action and Resilience Plan and ensures that the transition to 100 percent clean, renewable electricity by 2030 benefits everyone in our city.”

The plan cites the recently released report on climate change issued by the Trump administration, which — while federally mandated to produce the report — tried to bury it by publishing it over the long Thanksgiving weekend.

“Evanston has a long-standing history of bold climate action and a track record of making consistent reductions in carbon emissions,” according to the plan, and Hagerty emphasized how he was building on work done by his mayoral predecessors Lorraine Morton and Elizabeth Tisdahl.

“Thirteen years after Mayor Morton signed the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement, Evanston has reduced its overall emissions by 24 percent and leads the region in climate-related planning and progress,” the plan states. “The Climate Action and Resilience Plan builds on the foundation of community-driven planning and calls for another round of ambitious action.”

Although passed unanimously, the plan didn’t skate through without debate. First Ward Alderman Judy Fiske granted that it was an “important ordinance,” but also called it a “feel-good program” and asked for cost estimates in reaching the ambitious goals.

“We can’t really put a price tag on that,” said Alderman Eleanor Revelle, of the 7th Ward.

“The idea is to get people to recognize how far we need to go and what we need to do,” added Alderman Donald Wilson, of the 4th Ward. “It’s important to set a course and determine how we’re going to get there.”

Wilson pointed to how projections in technology can be hard, asking who would have predicted the rise in electric and hybrid cars 40 years ago?

Alderman Melissa Wynne of the 3rd Ward referred to what she called imminent “climate annihilation,” adding, “We’ve got to start somewhere.”

Jonathan Nieuwsma, president of Citizens’ Greener Evanston, said that it would solidify the city’s reputation as a “national leader in climate action.” He later added in a statement: “I’m proud to live in a community that is willing to confront climate change head on. Citizens’ Greener Evanston looks forward to working with all community stakeholders to make the vision of a zero-carbon, zero-waste Evanston a reality. We’re particularly proud of the fact that the plan directly addresses equity issues so that the effects of climate disruption won’t be borne disproportionately by those of our neighbors who are least equipped to adapt.”

According to the resolution that passed, the city begins implementation of the plan with the new year.