CHAMPAIGN, Ill., 10/22/21: Illinois State Water Survey climate researcher Ashish Sharma contributed his expertise on climate change and its impacts on urban communities and associated solutions to the recently released Climate Action Plan for the Chicago Region. Last week the collaborative group behind the plan, which includes non-profits, universities, Argonne National Laboratory, and municipalities, received a 2021 Climate Leadership Award from the Climate Registry and Center for Climate and Energy Solutions.
The group was awarded the Innovative Partnership certificate along with five other groups at the 10th annual awards, which were held virtually at the Climate Leadership Conference. The meeting convenes leading practitioners and decision makers to accelerate policy, innovation, and business solutions.
The Chicago Regional Climate Action Planning Partnership, led by the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus, was formed to address the lack of guidance for small cities and villages by approaching climate action planning at the regional scale. The partnership engaged more than 270 stakeholders, such as mayors, municipal staff, village trustees, and citizen advisory groups. Academic and research partners helped to establish projections and targets.
The partnership’s 2021 Climate Action Plan for the Chicago Region, which is one of the few regional plans in the United States, sets the goal for reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 50 percent of 2005 levels by 2030 and 80 percent by 2050.
A unique aspect of the partnership is its efforts to understand and plan for the effects of heat and flooding at the neighborhood level, while also keeping in mind the concerns of the entire region, Sharma said.
“You can’t achieve sustainability in the city if we don’t include the larger urban metro area and its fringes in the sustainability discussions,” Sharma said. “The idea was to consider regional inclusivity to come up with a plan that is feasible for all. The partnership is a good example of how multiple municipalities in a region can come together and establish achievable goals.”
Sharma’s research focuses on how green infrastructure—plants, soils, and landscaping—can modify the local climate, reduce heat, and impact energy use in communities. Local communities are charged with using green infrastructure practices to include preserved habitats, open space, and wetlands to buffer the impacts of climate change and improve quality of life.
The regional plan also uses green infrastructure as an adaptation and mitigation strategy to manage flooding and heat, make neighborhoods more beautiful, and help to sequester carbon, Sharma said. Reducing the need to treat stormwater also saves energy needed for wastewater processing, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Assessments in support of the regional plan involved understanding which communities are most affected by extreme heat and which ones could show greater resilience. In climate modeling, Sharma and colleagues combined temperatures, urban land surface characteristics, engineered infrastructure, and societal and environmental factors associated with vulnerability to climate change. Some of the societal factors included demographic, socio-economic, and disease information for urban communities.
“We use interdisciplinary approaches using physical, engineered, and social sciences to develop consensus-based models to develop decision support tools for urban planners and managers,” Sharma said. “This information is used to create scenarios of how vulnerability to urban atmospheric hazards can be alleviated and how and where urban hazard mitigation decisions can be implemented.”
For the neighborhoods most vulnerable to heat, air pollution, and flooding, the plan encourages collaborations to ensure residents are connected to emergency relief services and have safe and accessible transportation.
Sharma’s research has provided a significant contribution to the partnership and the regional plan, according to Edith Makra, director of environmental initiatives for the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus.
“Dr. Sharma has helped us set strategic targets for greenhouse gas emissions, assess regional risk and vulnerability to climate change impacts, and has guided our adaptation planning,” Makra said. “His impressive expertise in the area of green infrastructure for climate mitigation is helping us reduce impacts of climate change and build thriving, resilient communities for the long term.”
Media contact: Ashish Sharma, 217-300-8423, firstname.lastname@example.org