The Chicago Climate Charter

The Chicago Climate Charter

North American Cities Taking Action on Climate

North American Cities Taking Action on Climate

On December 4-6, 2017, the City of Chicago hosted the North American Climate Summit in partnership with C40 and the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy. The summit was the first US climate convening following President Donald Trump’s withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Agreement, and brought together over 50 cities drawn from ten countries, representing over 60 million people, to sign the Chicago Climate Charter.

Mayor Emanuel's Foreword

Mayor Emanuel's Foreword

Climate change is the defining crisis of our time. The world now regularly experiences numerous extreme, weather-related “100-year” events. Hurricanes, heat waves, floods, and droughts are devastating homes, destroying infrastructure, and taking lives in cities around the world. We know that climate change is driven by human activity and that it can be addressed by human action—but the climate crisis is facing a crisis of leadership at the national level. However, cities have the capabilities and the political will to act.


Over 70 cities have signed on to the Chicago Climate Charter and its seven crucial strategies for climate-related policies. These commitments make clear that while each city and mayor will have their own timelines, resources, and specific projects, they all agree that addressing climate change is critical to their duty to protect their residents and enhance the livability of their localities. These commitments also make clear that city actions can have a significant impact on the global challenge of climate change.

The commitments of the Chicago Climate Charter are comprehensive and inclusive. They recognize the need for cities to act and the importance of engaging all residents in the process.  They acknowledge the critical roles of other levels of government and the private sector and residents themselves.  They state plainly that climate change is real, as is the obligation to act.  Together these commitments will create thriving and low carbon cities that provide for their residents today and into the future.

Each commitment represents a real step that North American cities are taking to drive progress and demonstrate leadership in combatting climate change:

Reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Track, measure, and report the data.

Empower cities through collective action.

Engage all communities, especially nontraditional voices, in policy formation.
Integrate climate risks into infrastructure and emergency planning.

Support policies and actions that incorporate the cost of carbon and support those most impacted.

Partner broadly for robust solutions.


The largest sources of emissions in cities worldwide are the heating, cooling, and operating buildings, as well as transportation. Given that all cities, large and small, face similar opportunities to reduce emissions, the Chicago Climate Charter prioritized six commitment areas that cities can customize to fit their needs and meet their goals. To be sure, the cities vary in size, geographic determinants, and capacity. Cities with established public transportation infrastructure, for example, face different challenges than cities without public transit options. A city that gets its electricity from coal will likely prioritize shifting to renewable energy sources.

Mayors at the North American Climate Summit were asked to sign on to one or more specific commitment area and customize their own strategic plans for delivering on the goal: accelerating renewable energy use, improving buildings and infrastructure, diversifying mobility options, providing sustainable transportation, promoting effective waste management, and/or expanding green space and natural ecosystems. Making changes around energy, mobility, waste, and green space will yield the greatest outcomes for cities.

Commitments are expected to be attainable and realistic, while also ambitious and transformational. They were drafted based on being able to commence the implementation within the next two years; were of a profile that would drive interest and impact but not be impossible or unrealistic, particularly given cities’ diverse geographies, densities, economic climate, and politics; and on the ability to measure the impact across cities using common, transparent metrics that would be regularly reported. Each of the below commitment areas are guidelines around which each city can develop its action plan, including collecting data on its impact, the challenges the city perceives in adopting new policies, and examples of solutions cities are implementing or could implement to achieve their goals.

Each of the below commitment areas are guidelines around which each city can develop its action plan:
Accelerate Renewable Energy Use
Accelerate municipal use of renewable energy and work to deliver affordable renewable energy access in all communities.
Reduce Carbon from Buildings and Infrastructure
Reduce the carbon footprint of new and existing public and private buildings and infrastructure.
Provide Every Resident with Mobility Choices
Provide every resident with safe and accessible choices to walk, bike, or use public transit as a part of my city’s transportation system and land use policies.
Provide Sustainable Transportation in Public and Private Vehicles
Adopt policies and investments that reduce or eliminate the carbon footprint of public transit systems, my city’s own vehicle fleet, and privately-owned vehicles.

Promote Effective Waste Management

Reduce the carbon footprint of the solid waste system.

Invest in Green Space and Natural Ecosystems

Invest in natural climate solutions such as tree canopy, vegetation, and coastal restoration that conserve, restore and improve natural ecosystems that increase carbon storage.


Cities are playing a critical role in the transition from a fossil fuel driven global economy to one that is built on environmental and economic foundations that can sustain us all. Individual cities, however, will not be able to sustain the scale of change necessary on their own. Cities need to draw on best practices, double down on what works, and act collectively to make a meaningful impact.

Throughout the North American Climate Summit, mayors, their teams and partners dove deep into the challenges that lie ahead and the opportunities that must be seized.  Time and again during the Summit critical lessons emerged that can keep the momentum going. The specific recommendations, listed in their entirety below, can be summarized in three key principles.

The specific recommendations can be summarized in three key principles:


Obtain technical assistance.

There are many resources and organized analysis that can help jump start cities that try to commit to the new areas of expertise.

Measure the data.

Measuring data is needed to identify the biggest ticket items

Track and report impact.

Engage on existing platforms for reporting and tracking.

Involve communities most affected.

Too often policies are made without having the most affected populations at the table. Minorities, people of color, low income populations, women, and vulnerable residents need to help shape policies.


Double down on current actions.

Cities can first and foremost scale the actions they are already taking.

Focus on priority sectors.

Push for second and third generation actions to deepen impact in priority sectors

Deliver now with residents.

Link local actions to broader trajectories to make the pathways visible and relevant

Communicate and build awareness.

Tell the story of the urgency for climate action, and the opportunities and impact that residents will see.


Create metro-region plans.

Work to create metro-scale priorities and impact because the carbon challenge and opportunities do not begin and end at the boundary of one city.

​Pursue collective action.

Cities can look for ways to collaborate with other cities in the region and drive greater impact.

Advocate for natural resources.

Deep decarbonization requires actions of all levels of government; cities cannot do this alone.

Engage in climate coalitions.

Strengthen and engage with existing resources like C40, America’s Pledge, Cities for Action, and regional and local networks.


A number of cities that signed onto the Chicago Climate Charter have shared their stories and approaches to combatting climate change. This section houses those city profiles and offers a living repository for cities to highlight their efforts to promote sustainability.


Chicago: A Host City Leading on Climate Action

"When people say the costs of action are too great, I remind them to consider the costs of inaction.”

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel

"When people say the costs of action are too great, I remind them to consider the costs of inaction.”

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel

Chicago was an ideal city to host the first major convening on climate since President Trump announced his intention to have the United States leave the Paris Agreement. Under Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s leadership, Chicago has been a strong leader and advocate for climate action. The risks posed by climate change are not abstract in Chicago—without action, extreme temperatures, storms, and flooding will impact the city. Fortunately, the city has taken a proactive approach to addressing these threats, including joining the 100 Resilient Cities network and formulating a citywide resilience strategy.[1]

Chicago has taken actions to strengthen its economy and its neighborhoods while reducing carbon emissions.  Over the past decade, the city has already achieved 40 percent of its Paris Agreement carbon goal and increased the number of jobs by 7 percent while reducing emissions.[2] Chicago was the last major US city with coal fired power plants operating in its borders; they closed in 2012.[3] In 2013, the City Council passed the Chicago Energy Benchmarking Ordinance which requires large buildings to track and report energy use. The 2017 benchmarking report, which included data from more than 2,700 properties spanning nearly 750 million square feet revealed a collective savings of more than $39 million over 3 years.[4]

The City announced in April 2017 that all city buildings, including Chicago Public Schools, Chicago Housing Authority, Chicago Park District, and City Colleges of Chicago, will be powered by 100 percent renewable electricity by 2025.[5] The commitment will be met through a combination of acquiring renewable energy credits, utility-supplied renewable energy, and on-site generation, like wind and solar. The Chicago Smart Lighting Program will replace 270,000 of Chicago’s street, alley, and viaduct lights with high-quality, reliable, and energy-efficient LED fixtures over the next four years and install a smart lighting system that alerts the City when lights need service.[6]

The city has accelerated energy efficiency in buildings throughout the city through Retrofit Chicago which includes 87 properties generating $10.6 million in annual savings from reduced energy use. The Retrofit Chicago Energy Challenge is a voluntary program where buildings commit to reducing energy use by at least 20 percent within five years.[7] Participants have already saved 145 million kilowatt-hours per year, equivalent to powering over 13,000 homes in one year.[8]

Chicago has also been increasing and diversifying transportation and mobility options. In 2016, Bicycling magazine named Chicago the “Best Bike City in America.”[9]Chicago has over 290 miles of bike lanes, including the 18.5-mile lakefront trail. Its bike share program, Divvy, offers over 5,800 bikes in 580 stations, paying special attention to equity with its “Divvy for Everyone” discount.[10] From May-November 2018 the city piloted a dockless bike share program.[11] The city’s public transportation system is the second largest in the country. In 2017, Chicago received a grant to fund electric vehicle infrastructure, including 182 electric fleet vehicles, nine fast-charging stations and 182 lower level charging stations.[12]  The city is also looking to add electric buses throughout its fleet.

“When people say the costs of action are too great,” says Chicago’s mayor Rahm Emanuel, “I remind them to consider the costs of inaction.”

1. Chicago Council on Global Affairs, Resilient Chicago Strategy Release

2. City of Chicago Press Release, September 18, 2017

3. Chicago Tribune, August 30, 2012,

4. City of Chicago Press Release, February 13, 2018

5. City of Chicago Press Release, April 9, 2017,

6. City of Chicago Press Release, January 5, 2018,

7. Retrofit Chicago Energy Challenge, City of Chicago,

8. City of Chicago Press Release, February 2, 2018

9. City of Chicago Press Release, September 20, 2016

10. Divvy For Everyone,

11. Dockless Bike Share Pilot Program, City of Chicago,

12. “A look into Chicago’s electric vehicle future,” Smart Cities Dive, January 30, 2018.


Check back soon for a new case study!

Turning the tide on climate change is a process that will take time, but we need to start somewhere.

Turning the tide on climate change is a process that will take time, but we need to start somewhere.

The Chicago Climate Summit provides one launch point for coordinated and forceful action. We have a duty to strive towards a better tomorrow for cities around the world, a sentiment that is reflected by the fact that cities continue to sign on to the principles and commitments of the Charter. The road to achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement is long, but it runs through the Chicago Climate Charter.