Climate Action

The Earth's climate has changed in the past. Temperature and carbon dioxide levels have fluctuated due to natural variation like changes in the earth's orbit or factors such as volcanic eruptions. Modern climate change is occurring at an unprecedented and alarming rate. The main driver behind climate change today is human activity, which has increased carbon dioxide in the air to levels higher than anything seen in at least 800,000 years. An increase in greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide causes an increase in the earth's temperature.

Climate change has and will continue to present risks like higher frequency and intensity of hurricanes, forest fires, more extreme and record breaking temperatures, increased precipitation and flood risk, drought, rising sea levels, melting glaciers, loss of biodiversity, and potential risks that climate models will not be able to predict. 

For millenia, atmospheric carbon dioxide had never exceeded 300 parts per million.

For milennia, atmospheric carbon dioxide had never exceeded 300 parts per million (NASA)

Acting on climate change means both reducing our use of fossil fuels and proactively planning to adapt to future changes. More action is needed at both the state and federal levels. Citizens and businesses have a role to play in demanding effective action at all levels of government, using the climate action programs that are currently available, and making personal and business decisions that reduce energy waste.

  • Risks to Milwaukee
  • Climate Goals
  • Progress
  • Reports
  • Partners
  • Resources

Global climate change presents serious threats to our environment, human health, economy and equality, biodiversity, and national security.

The National Climate Assessment outlines particular threats climate change poses to Wisconsin and the Midwest as extreme heat, heavy downpours, and flooding that will affect infrastructure, health, agriculture, forestry, transportation, and air and water quality. Climate change will also exacerbate a range of risks to the Great Lakes.

The Impacts of Climate Change on Human Health Diagram

  • Human Health: lower air quality that could increase risk of lung and cardiovascular diseases, heat-related illnesses and premature deaths, and drinking water contamination
  • Community Vulnerability & Adaptation: negative impacts on urban heat island effect, homeless population, and tribal people who rely on threatened resources
  • Agriculture: reduced crop yields, wetter conditions that increase soil erosion, and more favorable conditions for pests and pathogens
  • Biodiversity & Ecosystems: faster rates of species decline and extinction, threats to ecological services like flood control, water purification, and crop pollination, and risk to freshwater resources from the Great Lakes 
  • Forestry: invasive species and reduced biodiversity, increase in tree mortality and decrease in forest productivity, challenges to timber and recreation industries, and threats to plants, animals, and resources important to tribal communities
  • Transportation & Infrastructure: increased flooding and heat stress could damage stormwater management systems and transportation infrastructure, as well as result in combined sewer overflows
  • Paris Climate Accord: 
    • Limit global temperature increase below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels
    • Pursue new actions to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius
  • 25x25 Goal: 
    • By 2025, the City aims to have 25% of its electricity generated from renewable sources
  • Department of Energy Better Buildings Challenge: 
    • Reduce energy use across City's building portfolio by 20% over 2009 baseline
  • Climate and Equity Task Force:
    • By 2030, Milwaukee aims to reduce community-wide net greenhouse gas emissions by at least 45%
    • By 2050, or sooner, Milwaukee aims to achieve net zero greenhous gas emissions
Aerial View of Landfill Solar FieldClose Up of Solar Installation at Milwaukee Central LibraryCurrent Electric Solar Installers at Landfill ProjectGreen Roof and Solar Array at Milwaukee Central LibraryMilwaukee Public Library Central Branch Solar InstallationResidential Solar ProjectSolar Now Milwaukee Landfill ProjectSolar on the Roof of Milwaukee Public Library Tippecanoe Branch


The City of Milwaukee has taken action with:

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City Purchases Now Prioritize Low- and Zero-Emissions Vehicles

The City of Milwaukee Common Council voted to approve an updated ordinance requiring departments to purchase low- or zero-emission vehicles with the goal to replace City-owned or leased vehicles with those that operate with cleaner, sustainable alternative fuels. The policy supports the City’s efforts to increase the use of vehicles powered by clean energy sources and achieve its climate goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 45% by 2030 and reaching net-zero emissions by 2050.

The ordinance applies to the purchase of light-duty and off-road vehicles, as well as medium- and heavy-duty vehicles. When cost-effective, purchases will prioritize hybrid, electric, and alternative-fuel vehicles. The City of Milwaukee Department of Public Works, Police Department, Fire Department, and Port are directed to report annually on the progress of the transition. The police department is already in the practice of purchasing hybrid vehicles for its fleet. The City of Milwaukee Environmental Collaboration Office is also working with departments to plan for electric vehicle charging infrastructure in City buildings and for the community.



City County Task Force on Climate and Economic Equity Recommends 10 Big Ideas

After convening resident and expert working groups for two years, the City County Task Force on Climate and Economic Equity submitted its recommendations to the Common Council.  ECO hired a consulting firm to take these recommendations and develop a formal Climate and Equity Plan to be adopted next year.

Port Milwaukee StewardSHIP Initiative Announced

Port Milwaukee launched the StewardSHIP initiative to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from commercial shipping fleets. Qualifying vessels can receive a 10% discount on dockage charges. 14 vessels took part in the program in the first year.



City's Largest Solar Installation at 2.25 Megawatts Completed

In partnership with We Energies, a 9-acre, 7,200 solar panel array was built on a City-owned landfill next to General Mitchell International Airport. The project cost the City nothing to build and generates about $96,000 a year in revenue for the City to invest in additional climate action. The project also supports grid resiliency and emergency preparedness for the Air National Guard's 128th Air Refueling Wing.

City Departments Accelerated Transition to Lower Fuel Vehicles

The City of Milwaukee Police Department purchased 30 hybrid police vehicles and other City departments are adding electric and hybrid vehicles to their fleets.



City-County Task Force on Climate and Economic Equity Created

The task force has made recommendations on 10 Big Ideas to reduce emissions and reduce racial and income inequality by assuring that greenhouse gas reduction investments and policies will create the maximum number of permanent living wage green jobs for people who live in the most impoverished Milwaukee neighborhoods with limited economic opportunity. A formal plan is forthcoming.

Solar Installed at 3 City Libraries, Major Energy Efficiency Project Completed at Central Library 

Installations included 710 solar panels on three Milwaukee Public Library locations—Central, Center Street, and Tippecanoe. These three projects, totaling 210 kilowatts, were originally part of a six building project that would have totaled 1 megawatt of solar; However, We Energies ultimately denied the request to interconnect some of  the systems to the power grid based on the way they were financed. 

The City also completed a $2 million energy efficiency retrofit at Central Library through an energy saving performance contract with Johnson Controls. The solar project and energy efficiency project combined yield a 20% energy savings at Central Library.

City of Milwaukee Green Infrastructure Plan Adopted

The Common Council adopted the City’s first Green Infrastructure Plan. Green infrastructure, which includes rain gardens, bioswales, green roofs, trees, etc., helps manage stormwater, reduce urban heat, and beautify the city. 



We Energies Renewable Energy Pilot Programs Approved

Former Mayor Barrett and other local leaders asked We Energies to create new options for large customers to purchase renewable energy. Later that year, the Public Service Commission approved two new pilot programs for We Energies to supply renewable energy. The City utilized the Solar Now Program to for the solar landfill project, completed in 2021.  The Environmental Collaboration Office is currently seeking improvements to the We Energies offerings with an eye toward meeting the 25% by 2025 goal.

Milwaukee Complete Streets Policy Adopted

Milwaukee passed a Complete Streets policy into law ensuring that streets are designed and operated to enable safe access for people of all ages and abilities, including people walking, biking, taking transit, and driving.



Milwaukee Better Buildings Challenge Launched for Commercial Buildings

Through a partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy and many local partners, the City launched the comprehensive Better Buildings Challenge program to reduce energy use in commercial buildings. This voluntary program helped commercial buildings benchmark their energy use, provided free energy assessments to identify improvement opportunities, connected building owners with PACE financing, helped train and employ workers in partnership with MATC, and provided awards and recognition to leading participants. The program was recognized as a national model for outreach and communication.



PACE Financing Program Developed for Commercial Buildings

PACE Financing helps commercial property owners affordably finance energy or water efficiency, renewable energy, electric vehicle infrastructure, energy reliability, stormwater controls or "green infrastructure," and other resiliency upgrades in their buildings The program has financed over $38 million in energy efficiency projects, saving commercial building owners over $2 million annually. The PACE Financing program has been designated a National Implementation Model by the U.S. Department of Energy.

City Adopts the ReFresh Milwaukee Sustainability Plan

The City of Milwaukee adopted the comprehensive ReFresh Milwaukee Sustainability Plan detailing recommended sustainability actions in the areas of buildings, energy, water, land and urban eco-systems, food systems, human capital, resource recovery, and mobility.



100-Kilowatt Port Milwaukee Wind Turbine Installed

The wind turbine provides more than 100% of the Port Administration Building's electrical needs, allowing surplus clean power to be provided back to the power grid. The Port has avoided releasing over 1,025 metric tons of carbon dioxide into our air and is the first City of Milwaukee municipal facility that is a "net zero" electric energy user.



Milwaukee Energy Efficiency program, Me2, is Created

Me2 offers affordable loans and incentives to homeowners for energy efficiency upgrades. Homeowners who have had their home inspected, insulated, and air sealed through Me2 have averaged a 30% reduction in energy use. The program has helped 1,440 homes since its creation and won a Climate Protection Award from the U.S. Conference of Mayors. 



Milwaukee Shines, the City's Solar Program, is Created

Milwaukee Shines provides affordable financing and Solar Group Buy programs to residents. Milwaukee was one of the first 14 cities to win the Solsmart Gold Award for streamlining the process to get solar permits. The Solar Group Buy program has helped over 280 property owners install 1.3 megawatts of solar. 10.22 megawatts of solar energy have been installed on Milwaukee homes and businesses to date. The City's original goal of 1 megawatt of solar capacity has far been exceeded.

Better Buildings Challenge: Milwaukee participates in the challenge with the goal of 20% energy reduction over a decade in participating municipal and commercial buildings.

Climate Mayors: Over 400 U.S. mayors work together to strengthen local efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and support efforts for binding federal and global-level policymaking. Former Mayor Barrett signed on to show the City of Milwaukee still remains committed to the principles of the Paris Climate Agreement.

Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewarage District: MMSD created the 2019 Resilience Plan, a framework for how the Milwaukee metropolitan area can address complex threats and become a stronger region. Find it under the Reports tab.

Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy: The largest coalition of city leaders addressing climate change by pledging to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, tracking progress, and preparing for the impacts of climate change.

Milwaukee Health Department Home Environmental Health Division: The aim of the division is to keep children and families healthy and safe with lead hazard reduction, lead surveillance and response, healthy homes, and drinking water safety programs. 

Reflo–Sustainable Water Solutions: The Environmental Collaboration Office and Milwaukee Health Department partner with Reflo on projects to sustainabily improve food security and decrease stormwater runoff while promoting community health and health equity.

U.S. Department of Energy SunShot InitiativeMilwaukee Shines is involved in a number of SunShot grants as part of a coalition of Midwest cities and organizations making solar energy cost-competitive with other forms of electricity by the end of the decade.

Wisconsin Local Government Climate Coalition: Members collaborate on overcoming barriers to decarbonization, accelerating local climate change solutions, and ensuring the benefits of the clean energy economy are distributed to everyone throughout the state.


Climate Mayors Logo with buildings and sun imagery        Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy logo with buildings and leaf imagery      U.S. Department of Energy's Sunshot Initiative logo with sunshine imagery         Better Buildings Challenge Logo       

 Reflo Logo with Recycling Arrows    Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District logo with bird and grass    Milwaukee Health Department Logo


Milwaukee's Solutions


Milwaukee Shines ecoCity of Milwaukee


Me2 Milwaukee Energy Efficiency ecoCity of Milwaukee


Better Buildings Challenge ecoCity of Milwaukee


In the News

Fostering Climate Resilience & Economic Equity in Milwaukee

Shepherd Express - April 4, 2022

A preliminary plan offers 10 ‘big ideas’ for acting locally while thinking globally.

Home Retrofits Are a Burgeoning Business in the Campaign Against Climate Change

PBS Wisconsin - May 10, 2022

Entrepreneurs and government programs in Wisconsin are connecting with homeowners to improve the energy efficiency of buildings and reduce carbon emissions–in Milwaukee, this work connects with efforts to improve community equity.

Milwaukee Creates Green Infrastructure Plan to Cope with Changing Climate

Wisconsin Public Radio - July 26, 2019

Earlier this month the city introduced its official Green Infrastructure Plan. It includes strategies to manage water resources and adapt to a rapidly changing climate.

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