Mayor Richard M. Daley has announced a plan to dramatically slash emissions of heat-trapping gases, part of an effort to fight global warming and become one of the greenest cities in the nation.
The plan calls for reducing greenhouse gas emissions to three-fourths of 1990 levels by 2020 through more energy-efficient buildings, using clean and renewable energy sources, improving transportation and reducing industrial pollution.
"We can't solve the world's climate change problem in Chicago, but we can do our part," said Daley on Thursday. "We have a shared responsibility to protect our planet."
It's the first step toward cutting emissions to one-fifth of 1990 levels by 2050, as called for in the 1997 Kyoto global warming protocols, officials said.
Daley is one of about 800 mayors who have agreed to adopt that goal, and Chicago is the first to identify specific pollution sources and outline how it would achieve the reductions in a measurable way, said Suzanne Malec-McKenna, Chicago's environmental commissioner.
Malec-McKenna said the city would use a combination of incentives and mandates.
Energy code makeover
Next month, the City Council is expected to consider an ordinance that would update the city's energy code to require such things as better insulation, heating and cooling systems and windows in all commercial, industrial and residential buildings.
The city also has an agreement with two coal-fired power plants to reduce emissions or shut down by 2015 and 2017, respectively, Malec-McKenna said.
The plan also calls for expanding the number of green rooftops, increasing recycling and car-pooling and promoting alternative fuels.
Malec-McKenna said the city would not rule out imposing mandates on residents — though she said there are no immediate plans to charge motorists a fee to drive in congested areas, as New York had considered before the plan died last spring.
"We have 12 years to go on the plan, so we're trying now to have enough incentives," Malec-McKenna said.
Officials say Chicago emits 34.6 million metric tons of greenhouse gases each year; including the six surrounding counties, that climbs to 103 million metric tons per year.
Alternative is warmer days?
If climate change is not addressed, summer heat indexes in Chicago could climb as high as 105 degrees — similar to Mobile, Ala. — by the end of the century and there would be more frequent heavy rains and floods, according to researchers from Texas Tech University in Lubbock and the University of Illinois who were commissioned by the city to study climate change.
Since 1980, Chicago's average temperature has risen approximately 2.6 degrees, 4 degrees in the winter.
"If you look at the records in Chicago, we have had the tendency to be moving toward milder weather conditions, the harsh winter seems to have decreased over time," said Jim Angel, climatologist with the Illinois State Water Survey at Champaign.
The city concedes that it won't be able to avoid future climate change entirely. The plan lists ways Chicago will deal with that, including implementing a heat warning system, reducing summer energy use, improving air quality, preparing for increases in rainfall and flooding, reducing erosion along Lake Michigan's shoreline and planting vegetation that can adapt to climate change.
Rebecca Stanfield, a senior energy advocate at the Natural Resources Defense Council in Chicago, said the report sets out a lot of work for the city.
"It's not like you can just walk away from this and say, 'We've got a plan to do this,'" Stanfield said. "It's a callback to everyone to the business sector, to the government sector to the advocacy community, that we've got a lot of work to do but at least we've got a road map."