If the June 13 supercell storm that uprooted trees, downed power lines, damaged cars and ripped the roofs off of buildings is any indication of the hazards that await communities on a warming planet, a gathering of elected officials held last week was an indication of what local leaders plan to do about it.
Mayors from at least 10 west suburbs met June 23 in a conference room on the campus of Triton College in River Grove and took turns signing a memorandum of understanding that signals their commitment to joining the Cross-Community Climate Collaborative (C4).
The new initiative puts participating suburbs on the hook for achieving a 100% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
The memorandum the mayors signed and that most of their village boards voted to approve isn’t legally binding and there’s no cost for any suburb to join. Participating suburbs include Broadview, Oak Park, River Forest, Forest Park, Riverside, Maywood, Berwyn, Bellwood, Westchester and River Grove. Other suburbs may join in the weeks and months to come.
The C4 initiative is spearheaded by Broadview Mayor Katrina Thompson, Oak Park Village President Vicki Scaman and River Forest Village President Cathy Adduci.
Politicians from other levels of government also attended the signing ceremony, including state Senate President Don Harmon (39th), Senate Majority Leader Kimberly Lightford (4th) and Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson (1st).
“There is no downside to signing this agreement,” President Adduci said on June 23. “Climate and environmental issues — whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat — affect us equally. Today is about working together to find solutions.”
President Scaman, who grew up in River Grove, said the C4 coalition wanted to have the signing ceremony at Triton for a reason.
“This is an institution that we all share for learning for our young people, and we are here to make sure that their future is as bright as we all want it to be,” she said. “And we’re going to need them to help us on that journey.”
According to the C4 memorandum, the initiative is designed to “bring together BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, and people of color] and non-minority communities across income lines to share ideas, secure resources, and drive large-scale projects within and across communities that achieve agreed upon greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reductions, equity, and sustainability goals.”
Mayor Thompson, who sits on the environmental committee of the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus, a local government advocacy organization that represents 275 municipalities in the Chicago region, said during a Broadview Village Board meeting on June 21 that the C4 collaboration targets the roughly two dozen municipalities in Oak Park, River Forest, Proviso and Leyden townships.
“This is really getting all the communities together to do something more local versus the whole region of Chicago,” Thompson said.
The C4 initiative will lean on two environmental consultants — Gary-based Urban Efficiency Group and Oak Park-based Seven Generations Ahead — that will provide a range of services for participating suburbs.
Mayors who signed the memorandum commit to a range of responsibilities. In addition to publicly endorsing the C4 initiative, they also agree to C4’s goal of a 45% greenhouse gas emissions reduction by 2030 from 2010 levels and 100% reduction by 2050.
In addition, village officials in participating suburbs agree to participate in monthly “cross-community” team meetings, establish a sustainability working group or commission, and to raise awareness about the C4 initiative, among other responsibilities.
Thompson said though suburbs aren’t committing any financial resources to C4, funding to pay for constant services and other costs could come from a variety of other places.
She said the West Central Municipal Conference, a government council that represents the 40 municipalities comprising Chicago’s inner-ring suburbs, is a possible source of either direct funding or leverage for accessing other funding sources. Participating governments pay a membership fee to be in the conference.
The conference is one of 10 Chicago area government councils that have adopted the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus Greenest Region Compact, which aims “for enhanced quality of life for residents; protection and stewardship of the environment and sustainable economic vitality,” according to the caucus’ website.
Urban Efficiency Group has worked in Broadview and Bellwood for several years. Most recently, the firm, which is minority-owned, helped Mayor Thompson create the Broadview Alliance for Sustainability, which focuses on a range of ways the village can bolster its renewable energy infrastructure.
For instance, Broadview officials are planning to install electric vehicle charging ports in its municipal parking lots along the village’s Roosevelt Road corridor.
During the June 23 signing ceremony at Triton, Darnell Johnson, president of Urban Efficiency Group, said while there are many different climate initiatives, C4’s emphasis on equity is what sets it apart from the others.
“One of the things that’s unique about this particular opportunity is the fact that it is truly built around making sure equity is centered in all of the work we do,” he said, “to make sure we are finding the gaps and spaces that exist between more resourced communities and those that are less resourced.”
The C4 signing ceremony comes a few months after the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a United Nations body comprising global experts on human-induced global warming, released its latest report.
“The [IPCC report] tells us that by the year 2030, we have to reduce global emissions by 45% from 2010 levels,” Gary Cuneen, the executive director of Seven Generations Ahead, said on June 23.
“If we don’t do that, then we run the risk of having global temperatures that increase by 1.5 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial times,” he added. “Now if that happens, they tell us we are going to have a catastrophe on a level that is just going to be unprecedented.”
Cuneen said the June 13 supercell storm that struck the Chicago area is just one extreme weather event within a week full of them — from monsoons in India and Bangladesh, to 100-degree temperatures around the country, to “massive, massive wildfires” in Spain.
“Who knows what is going to happen next week or today,” Cuneen said. “All we know is that it’s just going to continue to happen unless we address this issue.”