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Chicago makes progress on reducing carbon emissions

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Will we reach our 2025 sustainability goals?

The effects of climate change are most evident along the lakefront: erosion, flooding, and disappearing beaches. Earlier this month, city officials declare a “state of climate emergency.” So, what is the city planning to do?

For years city leaders have announced various initiatives and plans that have been small steps toward mitigating damage to our environment and natural resources. Some efforts have been successful, like the organizers and Emanuel administration who shut down two polluting coal-fired power plants in Pilsen and Little Village in 2012. Now, there are city-backed loans to help developers make clean energy improvements. And, the city is working on powering all its municipal buildings with renewable energy by 2025.

Recently, Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced that the city had a 15 percent reduction in its total carbon emissions between 2005 and 2017. To put that into context, that’s equivalent to removing 1.2 million vehicles from the road. The progress means we’re on the right track to hit our carbon emissions reduction target for 2025.

But reducing carbon emissions is just one aspect of creating a more sustainable city. If you’re wondering how climate change will affect Chicago, look to Lake Michigan’s big waves and intense storms.

Just a day after that February announcement, the mayor’s office issued a disaster proclamation due to the damage caused by “catastrophic flooding” along the shoreline. The first major storm in early January pounded the lakefront and caused damage to concrete paths, parks, and other infrastructure. While it’s normal for the lakefront levels to fluctuate, Lake Michigan has been at near-record highs for the past six months.

Another step the mayor took this month: A deep dive into what happens with the city’s trash. Landfills are responsible for the worst kinds of greenhouse gases, and with Chicago’s abysmal 7 percent recycling rate, there’s a lot of waste headed there. Right now, the system isn’t incentivized to get residents recycling but a study into the waste management process could change that. One idea being discussed is adding on a volume-based collection fee, which means residents would pay less if they’re throwing out less trash.