Sep 27, 2021 - Politics

Chicago mayor's climate plan short on goals

The Chicago skyline covered in haze
Mayor Lori Lightfoot pledged $188 million for environmental programs in her recent budget address. These include programs to improve air quality in the city. Photo: Jose M. Osorio/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Last week, Mayor Lori Lightfoot pledged to invest $188 million in the environment as part of her 2022 budget proposal.

  • She called it "the largest one-time investment in climate mitigation, adaptation, and environmental justice priorities in the city's history."

Yes, but: When Axios asked her for specific climate action goals with deadlines, neither she nor her staff could produce them.

  • Instead, her staff showed us a document indicating that Chicago only started to convene stakeholders around developing the plan this summer.

Why it matters: Cities create about 75% of the world's C02 emissions, according to the UN.

  • While published targets don't guarantee success, they do increase accountability and can get multiple city agencies moving in the same direction.

Context: Former Mayors Richard M. Daley and Rahm Emanuel both launched ambitious Chicago climate action plans while they were in office, with very specific goals and deadlines.

  • During the budget address, Lightfoot said some of the $188 million would go toward planting 75,000 new trees in Chicago by 2026.

Also: When Lightfoot campaigned for the job, she dinged her predecessor Emanuel for disbanding the Department of the Environment and said she'd restore it to create a central accountable body for climate action.

  • Halfway through her term, we have a chief sustainability officer (as we did under Emanuel) but still no Department of the Environment.
  • When we asked for a date for the relaunched department, she didn't have one.

What she's saying: "The process matters, the context matters. And I know you want me to tell you a date, but I'm telling you, we've engaged in a very thoughtful process to really do a survey of where we are as a city, internally, but also our level of engagement with partners in the community that are critically part of our path forward."

Of note: While Lightfoot hasn't released a goal-centered climate action plan, she did tout the city's partnership with regional and international climate plans that include the following measurable goals.

  • Reducing greenhouse gas emissions in Cook and the collar counties by 80% from 2005 levels by 2050, as part of the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus regional plan.
  • Reducing Chicago's carbon emissions by about 25% from 2005 levels by 2025 as part of Paris accord commitments signed by Emanuel in 2017.
  • Powering all Chicago buildings with renewable energy by 2035 as part of an Emanuel commitment.
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