Michigan cities, state step up planning efforts to combat climate change

This is part in an ongoing series about Michiganders working toward climate solutions. Know someone we should write about? Hit reply!


Climate change has come to Michigan in the form of extreme heat in the southern part of the state, multiple 500-year-floods the Metro Detroit area has experienced in the last few years, and a shortening winter season with less ice on the Great Lakes.

To avoid these impacts and even more catastrophic ones, scientists agree we must limit warming to 2 degrees Celsius in Michigan and around the world. But despite promises to limit warming, the United States, much like most of the world, is not on track to reach these goals.

So Michigan's local governments are stepping up with their own plans. According to a report by the Michigan Climate Action Network, more than a dozen cities and townships across the state have set carbon neutrality and renewable energy goals.

Michigan cities that have adopted climate plans.

“In 2017, when President Trump announced his intention to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement, cities stepped up,” Annabelle Wilkinson, environmental and climate justice specialist for Grand Rapids’ Office of Sustainability, told Michigan Climate News.

In Michigan, seven cities signed a joint declaration of support to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement, among other action, including several cities that declared climate change a crisis.

Cities including Ann Arbor, Montague, Rockford, Ypsilanti, Traverse City, Petoskey, Detroit, Grand Rapids, East Lansing, Lansing, Jackson, and Royal Oak have made commitments to either carbon neutrality or 100 percent renewable energy. Kalamazoo, Meridian, and Shelby townships have also made commitments.

The report outlines key components of a solid local climate policy, including a commitment to reduce greenhouse gases by 50 percent by 2030, a commitment to carbon neutrality by 2050, plans and progress reports for goals, a focus on equity and justice, and strategies that result in more local renewable energy.

Grand Rapids became the first city in Michigan with a 100 percent renewable energy goal more than a decade ago and was one of the first cities to offer free curbside single-stream recycling.

Now. Grand Rapids has committed to 100 percent renewable energy by 2025 and carbon neutrality by 2040 in its city operations. The city has already reduced emissions by 30 percent from 2008 through energy efficiency upgrades in buildings and at water facilities, buying electric vehicles for the city’s fleet, and using geothermal energy at fire stations.

“Grand Rapids has also been one of first and only cities to successfully separate stormwater from sewer – a $400 million dollar investment,” Wilkinson said.

Although the city’s environmental work hasn’t always centered equity, Wilkinson told Michigan Climate News the city is focused on it now by working with the community to co-create equitable pathways to decarbonizing Grand Rapid’s residential and commercial buildings.

“Transforming the way buildings and homes are designed, built, and operated is one of the most important ways a city can support affordable housing, ensure clean healthy air in our communities and increase our resilience to the negative impacts of a changing climate,” she said.

In September 2020, Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer committed Michigan to carbon neutrality by 2050, with interim goals. On Earth Day, she released a plan for how the state will reach those goals. The “MI Healthy Climate Plan” includes methods for placing two million electric vehicles on the roads, protecting 30 percent of land and water, and cutting food waste in half, all by 2030, among many other goals. The plan builds off the work of tribal communities, cities, and towns across Michigan, like Grand Rapids, that have been leading the way for years.

“There is power in numbers,” Wilkinson said. “Collaborating with other cities, hearing their best practices and lessons learned can only help propel the climate action movement forward.”

Access the Michigan Climate Action Network report here.

Access the MI Healthy Climate Plan report here.


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