Pennsylvania Climate Action Plan 2021 Unveiled by Governor

Governor Tom Wolf announced the Pennsylvania Climate Action Plan 2021 and called for statewide action on climate change by all sectors: legislative, government, industry, business, agriculture, and community organizations.

“As thousands of Pennsylvanians try to recover from historic flooding and tornadoes related to the remnants of Ida this month, the message is clear: we must move now out of a reactive mode on climate change,” said Gov. Tom Wolf. “Across sectors, leadership requires knowledge, tools, and proactive approaches to protect Pennsylvanians from the instability set off by the climbing global temperature. In addition to adapting to the level of impacts we’re already experiencing, we must significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions if we’re to prevent worsening impacts.”

Pennsylvania Climate Action Plan 2021 shows that statewide greenhouse gas emissions overall were nearly 19% lower in 2017 (the latest year for which data were available for the plan) than they were in 2005. Emissions decreased from electricity generation, residential and commercial fuel use, and transportation and increased from mining, oil, and natural gas operations and industrial-process heating fuel use.

Pennsylvania Climate Action Plan 2021 details 18 actions that will meet the 2025 and 2050 statewide emissions goals, if partners across sectors start now and carry them out within five years, 10 years, and 10+ years. Actions are needed in electricity generation, transportation, industry, residential and commercial building, agriculture, fuel supply, and, to help increase carbon capture and sequestration, land and forest management.

“We need to cut emissions significantly more to protect Pennsylvanians from worsening climate change impacts,” said Secretary McDonnell. “The good news is, we’ve made a start. The even better news is, there are number of tools at hand that can quickly boost our progress.”

These tools include:

  • Joining 11 other Northeast states in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI),
  • Requiring commercial buildings to meet higher energy efficiency standards,
  • Increasing use of electric vehicles,
  • Increasing the Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards to require electricity generators to get more of their energy from clean renewable sources,
  • Increasing the energy savings requirements for electric distribution companies (thereby boosting residential and commercial electrical energy efficiency),
  • Requiring gas utilities to meet similar energy savings requirements, and
  • Increasing capture of biogenic methane from non-fossil sources, including animal manure, food waste, and landfill gas, for use in by commercial and industrial properties. 

Pennsylvania Climate Impacts Assessment 2021, announced in May, noted six areas that are at especially high risk of climate change impacts: public health, overburdened and vulnerable populations, infrastructure, agriculture, recreation and tourism, and forests, ecosystems, and wildlife.

Pennsylvania Climate Action Plan 2021 charts adaptation pathways for each. Steps to learn the vulnerabilities and prepare for impacts in each area are identified. These are followed by five to 10 actions to reduce the vulnerabilities and manage the impacts.

“DEP listened to concerns expressed by the Office of Environmental Justice and a range of diverse communities,” said DEP Environmental Justice Director Allison Acevedo. “As a result, Pennsylvania Climate Action Plan 2021 is a blueprint for climate action incorporating environmental justice and equity. We pledge to use this plan to work collaboratively with local communities to increase knowledge about climate change and initiate climate action, and we invite others to join us.”

The greatest climate change impacts on infrastructure will come from flooding and landslides. “Only a few weeks ago, the remnants of Ida dumped rain on Pennsylvania for nearly 24 hours, as well as high winds and even tornadoes, resulting in hundreds of millions of dollars in damage at over 1,200 locations around the state,” said PennDOT Secretary Yassmin Gramian. “Heavy rains and extreme weather wreak havoc on our transportation infrastructure. These are real-world impacts of our changing climate.”

The greatest impacts on agriculture will come from warmer, wetter winters, including flooding.

“Agriculture is zip code neutral — it touches every life across Pennsylvania,” Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding said. “So is climate change. From the stresses of intense, prolonged heat; to severe flooding that destroys crops, eroding soil and polluting our waterways; to an environment that is more hospitable to invasive species, climate change threatens our food supply and impacts our lives and livelihoods. The Department of Agriculture is committed to a comprehensive, collaborative approach to seeking solutions to ensure a resilient, sustainable future for Pennsylvania.”

The greatest impacts on forests, ecosystems, wildlife, and recreation and tourism will come from rising average temperature.

“A more resilient and sustainable Pennsylvania relies on the steps we all take to protect and expand forest land, grow our acres of streamside forest buffers, and help communities with urban trees and green infrastructure,” DCNR Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn said. “In addition to sequestering carbon, these natural solutions will help people and wildlife adapt to warmer temperatures as well as improve air and water quality, and address flooding.”

As a result of increasing greenhouse gas emissions from human activity, Pennsylvania’s average temperature has risen nearly 2 degrees Fahrenheit since 1900, according to state, federal and local data in Pennsylvania Climate Impacts Assessment 2021.  Pennsylvania is on course to climb another 5.9 degrees by the middle decades of this century.