Charting Indiana’s climate-resilient future: IU to partner with Indiana communities to cut carbon emissions, expand tree canopies

BLOOMINGTON, Ind.—Ten local governments and one regional coalition will partner with Indiana University in 2022 to take action on climate change. Through a program led by IU’s Environmental Resilience Institute (ERI), Indiana communities will develop and expand plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and explore green solutions to extreme precipitation and heat waves being experienced more frequently throughout the state.

The initiative is part of the Resilience Cohort, an ERI program dedicated to accelerating Indiana’s transition to a sustainable, climate-resilient future. The Resilience Cohort operates within ERI’s newly formed McKinney Midwest Climate Project.

As part of the program, IU students and staff will assist local governments as they identify actions, policies, and programs to promote energy efficiency and eliminate locally produced, heat-trapping gases. Concurrently, another group of local governments will be conducting community-wide tree canopy assessments and developing strategies to maximize the benefits urban trees and other green infrastructure provide to Hoosiers, such as increasing community resilience to flooding and high heat.

Participants in climate action planning include La Porte, the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission, South Bend, and Tippecanoe County. Urban green infrastructure planning participants include Fort Wayne, Terre Haute, and Zionsville. Fishers, Huntington, Lafayette, and Merrillville will take part in both tracks of the program.

“Every ambitious journey requires a roadmap,” said ERI Implementation Manager Matt Flaherty. “We commend these Indiana communities who are charting a course toward a more equitable, carbon-neutral future and utilizing green infrastructure to ensure long-term community resilience.

“Not only will these plans help lower communities’ contributions to climate change, they’ll also lead to health and economic benefits for Hoosiers, such as better air quality, lower utility bills, and green jobs.”

Communities across Indiana, including Fort Wayne (pictured here), are partnering with the Environment Resilience Institute to reduce carbon emissions and promote tree canopy growth as a way to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

To help local governments achieve their sustainability and climate goals, a dozen IU students will be hosted across nine of the participants over the summer months. These McKinney Climate Fellows will provide additional staff capacity, while allowing students to gain job training and prepare for sustainability careers.

Additionally, climate action planning local governments receive access to technical resources and training through ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability, a nonprofit organization that specializes in emissions management and climate action. The training will help each participant set greenhouse gas reduction goals and engage diverse community stakeholders to develop a set of actions and policies to meet those goals, culminating in a community-wide climate action plan.

Meanwhile, urban green infrastructure communities will assess their local tree canopy and work with their residents to develop an equity-centered tree planting plan. As extreme weather becomes more common in the Midwest, urban trees can help mitigate flooding, cool the air on hot summer days, and serve as habitat for wildlife. Ensuring equitable access to these benefits is central to an inclusive, resilient future.

For the second year in a row, all Resilience Cohort participants will benefit from in-depth equity coaching and training, as well as translation services to support more inclusive public engagement.

Additional innovations within the 2022 Resilience Cohort include regional collaborations among over a dozen northwest Indiana local governments in Lake, Porter, and LaPorte counties and among Lafayette, West Lafayette, and Tippecanoe County. For neighboring communities that regularly work together on governance issues, regional climate action plans can streamline planning and establish consistent and comprehensive standards that benefit multiple jurisdictions.

“Climate change doesn't stop at the riverbank or at the city limits, so it makes sense to work together on a regional approach to climate action planning,” said Amy Krzton-Presson, a resource specialist and recycling educator for Tippecanoe County. “ERI's Resilience Cohort gives us the framework, tools, and support to improve and strengthen our community.”

Since 2019, the Environmental Resilience Institute has partnered with dozens of Indiana local governments on community-scale greenhouse gas inventories, climate action planning, and implementation of green projects. Collectively, these communities have identified the equivalent of 34 million metric tons of carbon dioxide for elimination—about the same as removing 7.4 million cars from US roadways for one year. 

Funding for the McKinney Midwest Climate Project is provided by the McKinney Family Foundation, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, and BCA Environmental Consultants.

About the Environmental Resilience Institute

Indiana University’s Environmental Resilience Institute brings together a broad, bipartisan coalition of government, business, nonprofit and community leaders to help Indiana better prepare for the challenges that environmental changes bring to our economy, health, and livelihood. Launched in May 2017, ERI is working to deliver tailored and actionable solutions to communities across the state of Indiana.