Four years in, little progress made on climate plan


The City of Evanston’s Climate Action and Resilience Plan (CARP), created four years ago by former Mayor Steve Haggerty, outlines ambitious goals for reductions in carbon emissions and waste in Evanston. Among its guiding objectives are for Evanston to run on 100 percent renewable energy by 2030 and for the city to be carbon neutral—meaning Evanston would emit zero net carbon emissions—by 2050. 

While these goals require lofty steps to be taken,—getting Evanston busses and cars to be 100 percent electric by 2035, convincing Evanston residents to adopt lifestyle changes to reduce waste and maintaining a long term working relationship with Northwestern University and other large Evanston employers whose cooperation is necessary for CARP’s success—major environmental accomplishments in Evanston are not without precedent. In fact, CARP was created in part to build off of the success of the earlier U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement. Evanston joined that agreement under former Mayor Lorraine Horton in 2005 and used it to effect a 24 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in Evanston over 13 years. 

CARP is broken up into two main sections, Climate Resilience and Climate Mitigation, and its implementation is overseen by the City of Evanston Environment Board. CARP implementation began in 2019, when the city approved the CARP Policy Package consisting of 140 actions, most of which were in the realms of Waste and Municipal Operations. These and other efforts have gotten the ball rolling on much of CARP, but has it been enough to keep Evanston on track for its 2030 and 2050 goals?

“To make a long story short, it is a big fat ‘no’ across the board,” said ETHS senior and board member of Citizens’ Greener Evanston Lily Aaron. “CARP was passed by City Council in 2017 and has essentially been sitting in a closet ever since. Its benchmarks no longer apply. Even since then, especially with the new [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] report, there is no doubt that we need to step up our game. This has been especially frustrating to imagine, because how can we even begin to think about making more ambitious demands if we can’t even implement what we have written down in the first place?” 

That is a question for which the City of Evanston Environment Board is largely responsible. Composed of 11 mayor-appointed members, the majority of them appointed during former Mayor Haggerty’s tenure, the board operates on a schedule of monthly meetings and exists with the goal of  “reducing and mitigating climate change impacts,” according to the City of Evanston website. The Board has managed to maintain these meetings throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, though the pandemic was not without detriments to the implementation and progression of CARP. 

“Once we got into 2020, COVID did play a sizable role [in interrupting CARP] because City Council had limited time, and so much of their time was devoted to dealing with [COVID],” junior Emmet Ebels-Duggan said.  

Discussed in a July 7 Environment Board meeting was the implementation of CARP with a focus on the economics at play and Northwestern University’s plans to collaborate with the city. In order to support CARP’s goals, Northwestern is asking that CARP and Northwestern align their goals and Evanston provides more funds and structure for collaborative projects in the city. 

“Northwestern is a very major player in Evanston, even in Evanston politics. … Any efforts by them to implement or collaborate with CARP would be amazing. … There’s a lot of space on Northwestern’s campus to work with renewable energy resources,” Ebels-Duggan said.

When it comes to funding CARP, the City of Evanston has recently been granted $43 million from the federal government for COVID-19 relief as part of the American Rescue Plan Act. Environmental advocates in the city support utilizing some of those funds to advance CARP’s implementation.

“At the moment, they have $1 million recommended allocated to CARP. That’s great. It’s really good to see that much money going there, but we really think that they could be looking at a lot more,” Ebels-Duggan said. “As of this recording, there is $8 million still available in the sector that CARP is in. City council members, Alderman Nieuwsma specifically, I believe have already been pushing for 1.5 million.” 

Despite the logistical and fiscal complications, the pandemic and a perception by some that CARP’s main goals may be out of reach, the city has had some victories in implementing CARP this year. In February, City Council approved an update to CARP that focused on improving sustainability for large buildings, and the city also installed several new public electric vehicle charging stations in a direct attempt to satisfy CARP’s goals for decreasing emissions from transportation. Even as the City of Evanston takes steps towards CARP’s success, true carbon neutrality seems a far off and even hopeless goal for some, especially younger Evanston residents. Such feelings have prompted many in the city, including ETHS students, to look for ways that they can tangibly work in support of repairing the climate.

“An amazing opportunity to learn more about the climate crisis and take action on both a local and federal level is to join local groups,” Aaron said. “Etown Sunrise, [for example] ,… [is focused] this year on implementing climate curriculum at ETHS, reinstating composting in all cafeterias and, generally speaking, holding the ETHS administration and the City of Evanston accountable for enacting the rigorous climate policy we so desperately need. Also, if joining groups such as Etown Sunrise isn’t feasible, there are still a ton of ways to contribute. Whether it be through donating or reading up on various aspects of the climate crisis, anything and everything is worth it.”