Kane County plans for carbon neutrality by 2050

Kane County, in a new draft plan designed to fight climate change, has set a goal to be carbon neutral by 2050.

The county’s Climate Action Implementation Plan, currently in draft form and accepting public input, recommends actions that will reduce the county’s greenhouse gas emissions and increase resilience to the effects of climate change. Across eight categories, the plan lays out individual goals and implementation steps that can be taken over the next 25 years.

“The future of Kane County depends on making the planet healthier and a safer place for all of us to live,” said District 4 Kane County Board member Mavis Bates, who is the chair of the Energy and Environmental Committee. “Reducing greenhouse gases is the one way that we can protect ourselves and future generations from not only climate change but the bad health effects of the air pollution that’s causing climate change.”

In the short-term, the draft Climate Action Implementation Plan has the goal of reducing emissions to 25% below the county’s emissions in 2019. Kane County’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2019 were already falling, down nearly 5% from 2010 despite the county growing in population by around 3% and the economy growing by over 18%.

Each categories’ goals, such as the Transportation category’s goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles by roughly 28%, increasing public transit use 190% and registering over 96,000 new electric vehicles, feed into the plan’s overall goal of carbon neutrality for the county by 2050.

According to the plan’s glossary, a carbon neutral community is one that removes or offsets the same amount of carbon dioxide that it produces. Carbon dioxide is the main greenhouse gas and is produced when fossil fuels and other biological substances are burned, among other ways.

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is a mitigation strategy, but it does not protect the community against the current effects of climate change, such as increased temperatures and severe weather, according to the plan. The plan accounts for this by also setting goals for resilience against climate impacts to the county.

Kane County is most sensitive to climate change impacts like extreme temperatures, severe weather, flooding, food shortages, low crop yields and power outages, according to the plan. By setting goals like reducing the number of dark impervious surfaces by 10% and increasing the tree canopy cover by 6.5%, both of which are in the Greenspaces and Ecosystems section, the plan looks to make Kane County more resilient and adaptive to climate impacts.

To achieve the plan’s goals, each section lays out a number of strategies, which are themselves broken down into specific actions that can be taken by the county government. These actions may be achievable by the county itself or may require the county to work with local businesses, municipalities or other local organizations.

One major way the plan looks to achieve these goals is through electrification, according to Bates. She said that, by substituting electric alternatives for things like cars, buildings and even stoves that typically run on fossil fuels, greenhouse gas emissions can be significantly reduced.

For example, to achieve the plan’s goal of registering over 96,000 new electric vehicles, a timeline is given for phasing out county-owned vehicles that run on fossil fuels.

The plan suggests that gas-powered passenger vehicles, except for police cars, should be replaced with electric vehicles by 2030, that gas-powered county-owned vehicles should be replaced completely with electric by 2040 and, finally, all county-owned vehicles should be replaced by 2040, even those that run on diesel.

As a part of this strategy, the plan recommends the specific actions of phasing out gas and propane lawn care tools and construction equipment, conducting a study of the county’s vehicles to create an electric vehicle replacement schedule and more.

The plan also suggests that the county should collaborate with local businesses and other organizations to replace half of their fleets with electric vehicles by 2030 and fully replace their fleets by 2035, with a goal of 30 new organizations agreeing to replace their fleets each year, and should work with local electric companies to make sure their power grids are able to handle the increased number of electric vehicles.

The county plans to maintain the momentum it currently has about climate action by creating implementation groups consisting of local government leaders, business representatives and community members who are concerned about the climate, according to Kane County Sustainability Manager Sarra Hinshaw.

She said that she also hopes to get students involved, since they will be living in the future that the plan is looking out for.

“This goal goes to 2050. I don’t know if I’m going to be here in 2050,” she said. “Really trying to bring in that student aspect of it is something that I feel really strongly about.”

Each implementation group will have a different category, like electric cars, solar power and more, Hinshaw said. These groups will use the Climate Action Implementation Plan as a guide in making changes to the county and potentially their own organizations.

Public input has been an important part of the Climate Action Implementation Plan since the planning process began in August 2023, officials said. Over 80 people from across the county formed a team that, along with consultant paleBLUEdot, developed the plan through in-depth discussions and research, according to Hinshaw.

A survey, which received over 1,000 responses, also helped to shape the direction of the plan. Now that the first draft of the plan has been completed, Kane County is again looking for input from the public.

“Anything that they want to add or that they think needs to be changed or deleted, those are all things that we want to hear from the public,” Bates said. “It’s not our plan, it’s their plan. We’re the midwives of this baby, and then the baby’s going to belong to everyone in Kane County.”

The public will have an opportunity to review the draft plan and make any suggestions at a number of listening sessions scheduled around the county. These listening sessions will take place at:

  • Geneva Public Library on Feb. 6 from 6–7:30 p.m.

  • Gail Borden Public Library in Elgin on Feb. 7 from 6–7:30 p.m.

  • Aurora Public Library, Eola Road Branch, on Feb. 21 from 5:30–7 p.m.

  • Hawthorne Hill Nature Center in Elgin on Feb. 24 from 11 a.m. – 2 p.m.​

The plan is also available for review online and comment until Feb. 29 at https://palebluedot.llc/kane-climate-action

rsmith@chicagotribune.com