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8.3: Case Study- Greenhouse Gases and Climate Change

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  • Introduction

    If increased greenhouse gas emissions from human activity are causing climate change, then how do we reduce those emissions? Whether dictated by an international, national, or local regulation or a voluntary agreement, plans are needed to move to a low-carbon economy. In the absence of federal regulation, cities, states, government institutions, and colleges and universities, have all taken climate action initiatives. This case study provides two examples of climate action plans – one for a city (Chicago) and one for an institution (the University of Illinois at Chicago).

    Chicago’s Climate Action Plan

    Urban areas produce a lot of waste. In fact, 75 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions are generated in urban areas. Therefore, it is important for cities to develop plans to address environmental issues. The Chicago Climate Action Plan (Chicago CAP) is one such example. The mid-term goal of this plan is a 25 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 and final goal is 80 percent reduction below 1990 GHG levels by the year 2050.

    The Chicago CAP outlines several benefits of a climate action plan. The first would obviously be the reduction of the effects of climate change. Under a higher emissions scenario as per the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), it is predicted that the number of 100 degree Fahrenheit days per year would increase to 31, under the lower emissions scenario it would only be eight. Established by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the IPCC is the leading international body that assesses climate change through the contributions of thousands of scientists.

    Second, there is an economic benefit derived from increased efficiencies that reduce energy and water consumption. Third, local governments and agencies have great influence over their city’s greenhouse gas emissions and can enhance energy efficiency of buildings through codes and ordinances so they play a key role in climate action at all governmental levels. Finally, reducing our dependence on fossil fuels helps the United States achieve energy independence.

    Designing a Climate Action Plan

    Screen Shot 2019-04-19 at 1.38.19 PM.png
    Figure illustrates the emissions calculated for Chicago through 2005. Source: City of Chicago, Chicago Climate Action Plan

    A good climate action plan includes reporting of greenhouse gas emissions, as far back as there is data, preferably to 1990. Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\) depicts the emissions calculated for Chicago through 2005. From that point there is an estimate (the dotted line) of a further increase before the reductions become evident and the goals portrayed can be obtained. The plan was released in September 2008 and provides a roadmap of five strategies with 35 actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) and adapt to climate change. The strategies are shown in Table \(\PageIndex{1}\). Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\) identifies the proportion of emissions reductions from the various strategies.

    Sources of the CCAP Emission Reductions by Strategy
    Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\) Graph shows the sources of the Chicago CAP emission reductions by strategy. Source: C. Klein-Banai using data from City of Chicago, Chicago Climate Action Plan.

    In 2010 CCAP put out a progress report wherein progress is measured by the many small steps that are being taken to implement the plan. It is not translated exactly to emissions reductions but reports on progress for each step such as the number of residential units that have been retrofitted for energy efficiency, the number of appliances traded in, the increase in the number of rides on public transit, and the amount of water conserved daily.

    University Climate Action Plan

    Several factors caused a major Chicago university to develop a climate action plan. As part of the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC), nearly 670 presidents have signed a commitment to inventory their greenhouse gases, publicly report it, and to develop a climate action plan. Part of the Chicago CAP is to engage businesses and organizations within the city in climate action planning. In order to be a better steward of the environment, the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) developed a climate action plan. The goals are similar to Chicago’s: a 40 percent GHG emissions reduction by 2030 and at least 80 percent by 2050, using a 2004 baseline. The strategies align with those of the city in which the campus resides (see Table \(\PageIndex{1}\)). UIC’s greenhouse gas reports are also made publically available on the ACUPCC reporting site. Figure \(\PageIndex{3}\) displays UIC’s calculated emissions inventory (in red) and then the predicted increases for growth if activities continue in a “business as usual (BAU)” approach. The triangular wedges below represent emissions reductions through a variety of strategies, similar to those of the wedge approach that Professors Sokolow and Pacala proposed. Those strategies are displayed in Table \(\PageIndex{1}\), alongside Chicago’s for comparative purposes.

    Screen Shot 2019-04-19 at 1.40.26 PM.png
    Figure \(\PageIndex{3}\) UIC’s Projected Emissions Reductions. Projected emissions reductions from 2004 to 2030. Where BAU stands for Business as Usual, what would happen if no action were taken? Source: UIC Climate Action Plan, figure 6.
    Chicago Cap UIC Cap
    Energy Efficient Buildings Energy Efficiency and Conservation
    Retrofit commercial and industrial buildings Retrofit buildings
    Retrofit residential buildings Energy performance contracting
    Trade in appliances Monitoring and maintenance
    Conserve water Water conservation
    Update city energy code Establish green building standards
    Establish new guidelines for renovations
    Cool with trees and green roogs Green roofs/reflective roots
    Take easy steps Energy conservation by campus community
    Clean and Renewable Energy Sources Clean and Renewable Energy
    Upgrade power plants Modify power plants
    Improve power plant efficiency Purchase electricity from a renewable electricity provider
    Build renewable electricity Build renewable electricity
    Increase distributed generation
    Promote household renewable power Geothermal heating and cooling
    Improved Transportation Options Improved Transportation Options
    Invest more in transit
    Expand transit incentives Expand transit incentives
    Promote transit-oriented development
    Make walking biking easier Make walking and biking easier
    Car share and car pool. Car sharing/car pool program
    Improve fleet efficiency Continue to improve fleet efficiency
    Achieve higher fuel efficiency standards
    Switch to cleaner fluids
    Support intercity rail Reduce business travel (web conferencing)
    Improve freight movement Anti-idling regulations/guidelines
    Reduced Waste and Industrial Pollution Recycling and Waste Management
    Reduce, reuse and recycle Establishing recycling goals
    Shift to alternative refrigerants Composting
    Capture storm water on site Sustainable food purchase and use of biodegradable packaging
    Collecting and converting vegetable oil
    Develop a user-friendly property management system
    Expand the waste minimization program
    Recycle construction debris
    Purchasing policies
    Preparation (Adaptation) Improved Grounds Operations
    Manage heat Capture storm water on site
    Protect air quality Use native species
    Manage storm water Reduce/eliminate irrigation
    Implement green urban design Integrated pest management
    Preserve plants and trees Tree care plan
    Pursue innovative cooling
    Engage the public
    Engage businesses
    Plan for the future
    Education, Research, and Public Engagement
    Employment Strategies
    Childcare center
    Public Engagement

    Table \(\PageIndex{1}\) Alignment of the Chicago and UIC Climate Action Plans Source: C. Klein-Banai using data from Chicago Climate Action Plant and UIC Climate Action Plan


    There is no one approach that will effectively reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Climate action plans are helpful tools to represent strategies to reduce emissions. Governmental entities such as nations, states, and cities can develop plans, as can institutions and businesses. It is important that there be an alignment of plans when they intersect, such as a city and a university that resides within it.