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Accelerating Climate Action: Speaker Info

“Accelerating Climate Action” featured presentations and a moderated panel discussion by the following speakers:

Eero Ailio (Presenter)

Advisor, Energy Transition and Local Governance, European Commission
M. Ailio advises senior management on energy transition, leads sub-national and non-state actor cooperation i.a. as the Commission representative in the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy. In previous management positions at the Consumer and Retail Market Units, he contributed to the Clean Energy for All Europeans legislation and developed its consumer concepts through the EC Communication “Delivering a New Deal for Energy Consumers”. He conceptualized the re-design of EU Covenant of Mayors, the EU Energy Poverty Observatory and the Clean Energy for EU Islands Secretariat. Previously he co-negotiated the Offshore Safety Directive in reaction to the Deepwater Horizon disaster, as well as international agreements on satellite navigation (e.g. US-EU) and worked as career diplomat on security, humanitarian aid policies supporting also President Ahtisaari, the Kosovo peace mediator. Mr Ailio has additional experience from international finance, media and city administration. He has an MSc (Econ) from Hanken Business School Finland, is a former Nordplus Scholar at Stockholm University and alumnus of the US International Visitor Program.

Mayor Kevin Burns (Emcee, Moderator)
City of Geneva, Illinois
Chairman, Environment Committee & Energy Subcommittee, Metropolitan Mayors Caucus

Kevin Burns has served in elected office in his hometown of Geneva, Illinois for more than 24 years – as a Trustee of the Library Board, Alderman 1st Ward and as Geneva’s Mayor since 2001. Burns is currently in his sixth consecutive term as Mayor making him Geneva’s longest serving Mayor.

Burns also serves on regional organizations such as the Kane County Storm Water Management Committee, Metropolitan Mayors Caucus Economic Development Committee, Chairman of the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus Environment Committee & Energy Subcommittee and President of the Metro West Council of Government. In the private sector, Burns has served in executive leadership positions in the not-for-profit industry with leading national health agencies, amateur athletics, higher education, human services and public advocacy organizations.

Representative Sean Casten (Panelist)
Congressman, 6th Congressional District, U.S. House of Representatives

As a scientist, clean energy entrepreneur and CEO, and now as a Member of Congress representing the western suburbs of Chicago, Congressman Sean Casten has dedicated his life to fighting climate change. Casten draws upon his previous private sector experience in Congress to craft market-based solutions to reduce emissions while creating jobs and spurring economic growth.

Casten serves on the Science, Space, and Technology Committee, the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis and is the  Vice Chair of the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Investor Protection, Entrepreneurship, and Capital Markets. He also serves as Co-Chair on the New Democrat Coalition Climate Change Task Force.

Maya Dutta (Panelist)

Sustainability Coordinator, City of Waukegan
Maya Dutta is the first-ever Sustainability Coordinator for the City of Waukegan, with experience in urban sustainability,  community engagement, and nature-based solutions to climate change. Maya began working for the City in October 2019 as an AmeriCorps member through the Greenest Region Corps program?, immediately joining the staff following the completion of her service term. Prior to joining the City, Maya has worked on regional sustainability with the City of St. Louis, urban ecological research at the Chicago Botanic Garden, and international climate policy analysis as a delegate at the 24th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. She is particularly interested in interdisciplinary solutions to climate change that are implementable at the municipal level. Maya graduated from Washington University in St. Louis with a Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Biology and Anthropology: Global Health and the Environment.

Representative Bill Foster (Presenter)

Congressman, 11th Congressional District, U.S. House of Representatives
Congressman Bill Foster is a scientist and businessman representing the 11th Congressional District of Illinois, a position he’s held since 2013. He also represented the 14th Congressional District of Illinois from 2008 to 2011. He is the only PhD physicist in Congress. Bill serves on the House Financial Services Committee where he advocates for consumer protections and an economy that works for everyone. In response to the Great Recession, he helped create several important reforms in the financial services and housing markets, including the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.

Bill serves as chairman of the Financial Services Committee’s Task Force on Artificial Intelligence. He also serves on the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee where he has fought for evidence-based policies and forward-thinking approaches to some of our country’s most pressing issues, including climate change and energy innovation. He is a champion for sustained federal funding for scientific research. Bill serves as the chairman of the Science Commitee’s Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee, which is empowered to investigative and oversee federal scientific research.

Ned Gardiner, Ph.D. (Presenter)
Climate Program Officer (Contractor), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Ned helps communities adapt to climate change, most recently helping guide and author the 2021 Climate Action Plan for the Chicago Region and, before that, the North Carolina Climate Risk Assessment and Resilience Plan. For three decades, he has discovered and invented ways to use geospatial data to help people make informed plans and decisions through mathematical modeling, statistics, high-definition video production, data visualization, climate analysis, and adaptation planning. Over the next several years, he and his colleagues with the U.S. Climate Resilience Toolkit plan to help hundreds of communities around the nation equitably adapt to climate change using the Steps to Resilience adaptation framework.

Deputy Secretary Don Graves (Presenter)
U.S. Department of Commerce

Don Graves is the 19th Deputy Secretary of Commerce. Graves brings decades of experience in the private sector, government, and nonprofits to the Department of Commerce. Most recently, he served as Counselor to President Joe Biden during the 2020 presidential campaign. Prior to that, Graves served as Executive Vice President and Head of Corporate Responsibility and Community Relations at KeyBank. In this role, Graves led KeyBank’s corporate responsibility team, including the bank’s $16.5 billion National Community Benefits Plan, the bank’s sustainability work, stakeholder engagement, and outreach, and oversaw the KeyBank Foundation and the First Niagara Foundation.  

During the Obama-Biden Administration, Graves served as Counselor and Domestic and Economic Policy Director for then-Vice President Biden. He was previously appointed by President Barack Obama as Executive Director of the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness and led the federal government’s efforts in the economic recovery of the city of Detroit. Graves also served as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Small Business, Community Development, and Housing Policy at the U.S. Department of the Treasury, where he oversaw the CDFI Fund, the $4 billion Small Business Lending Fund, and the $1.5 billion State Small Business Credit Initiative. He was also the U.S. Federal Representative to the G7 Task Force on Social Impact Investment.  

Mayor Lori Lightfoot (Presenter)
City of Chicago, Illinois
Lori E. Lightfoot is the 56th Mayor of Chicago. Since assuming office following her historic election, Mayor Lightfoot has undertaken an ambitious agenda of expanding opportunity and inclusive economic growth across Chicago’s neighborhoods and communities, with early accomplishments including landmark ethics and good governance reforms, worker protection legislation, and closing a record $838 million budget gap, as well as key investments in education, public safety and financial stability. Mayor Lightfoot also placed Chicago on the path to a $15 minimum wage by 2021. 

In response to the unprecedented COVID-19 crisis, Mayor Lightfoot has led a coordinated, citywide response across government, business, and community organizations to effectively address its spread and broader public impact, including the creation of the Racial Equity Rapid Response Team, the COVID-19 Recovery Task Force, among other actions.  

Edith Makra (Presenter)

Director of Environmental Initiatives, Metropolitan Mayors Caucus
Edith Makra directs sustainability initiatives for the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus, a coalition of 275 mayors in the greater Chicago region. She leads programs to advance sustainability and environmental stewardship for municipalities. Makra developed the Greenest Region Compact, a consensus sustainability pledge now adopted by 136 Chicago-area communities, forming the largest regional municipal sustainability collaborative in the US. She has led the creation of the first climate action plan for the Chicago region.

 Makra previously served as the first environmental advisor to Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley and has directed state-wide and regional environmental programs in Illinois and Massachusetts. She has a B.S. in Forestry from the University of Illinois; an Executive Sustainability Certificate from Harvard University; and is an International Society of Sustainability Professionals – Certified Sustainability Professional. 

Alex Minnella (Panelist)
Senior Planner, Mayor’s Office of Economic Development, City of Aurora, IL
Alex brings planning, urban design, policy design, and economic development experience in both public and private practice. He is passionate about creating or enhancing vibrant, authentic, and sustainable communities. As an urban planner, Alex responds to communities and developers needs while educating and exhibiting a creative flair and environmental sensitivity, reflecting modern design theories. He strongly believes that the most successful projects involve meaningful public engagement providing all in a community the opportunity to have their voice heard.

Richard W. Spinrad, Ph.D (Presenter)
Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and NOAA Administrator 
Richard (Rick) W. Spinrad, Ph.D., was sworn in on June 22, 2021 as the Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and the 11th NOAA Administrator. Dr. Spinrad is responsible for the strategic direction and oversight of the agency and its over 12,000 employees, including developing NOAA’s portfolio of products and services to address the climate crisis, enhancing environmental sustainability and fostering economic development, and creating a more just, equitable, diverse, and inclusive NOAA workforce. 

Councilwoman Kim Stone (Panelist)

Councilmember, City of Highland Park
Kim Stone has served as a Councilmember for the City of Highland Park since May 2013. She has over 20 years of environmental and management experience, having previously worked at the Midwest Pesticide Action Center, Great Lakes Protection Fund, and Environmental Law and Policy Center. Kim has served on the National Advisory Board of the Union of Concerned Scientists since 2005, and on the Board of Community Partners for Affordable Housing since 2014. Kim co-chairs Go Green Illinois, a local organization that works to encourage and support the establishment of citizen’s environmental groups in Chicago’s northern suburbs, to share best practices among the groups and to collaborate on addressing environmental challenges that cross municipal boundaries. Kim graduated from Middlebury College and earned Masters degrees in Population Planning and Public Policy from the University of Michigan.