Pennsylvania commits to Paris Agreement climate goals; state’s plan calls for 80 percent carbon cuts by 2050

Pennsylvania becomes the 24th state to join the U.S. Climate Alliance

  • Susan Phillips, WHYY

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

Climate scientists say the Pennsylvania can expect more precipitation as global warming continues. 2018 was the wettest year on record for Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania joined the U.S. Climate Alliance, a bi-partisan group of two dozen states committed to goals outlined in the 2015 U.N. Paris Climate Agreement. Gov. Tom Wolf announced the move at an event in Harrisburg while releasing the state’s latest Climate Action Plan, which includes 100 ways to cut carbon emissions 80 percent by 2050. The cuts are based on 2005 emissions levels.

The Paris Agreement committed countries to reduce carbon emissions in order to prevent global average temperatures from rising beyond 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels. President Trump has said he will withdraw the U.S. from the accord.

“In the absence of leadership from the federal government and the wholesale dismantling of national climate and environmental policies,” Wolf said, “I am proud to join with states that are leading the way toward new climate solutions.”

Pennsylvania becomes the 24th state to join the bipartisan group.

Wolf said climate change has already affected Pennsylvanians. 2018 was the wettest year on record, which resulted in some devastating floods.

“And we know why our storms are becoming more frequent and more intense,” he said. “We know why our planet is becoming warmer and we know we need to change course before it’s too late.”

The actions include increasing incentives for solar and wind power, energy efficient buildings and electric vehicles. Wolf said 15 actions related to those aims alone would reduce emissions 21 percent by 2025. Wolf’s carbon emission reduction goals include a 26 percent reduction by 2025 from 2005 levels.

Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Patrick McDonnell said reducing emissions is a “team effort.”

“Government leaders must lead by example, and businesses, farms, community organizations, and citizens can all make a difference to fight climate change,” he said.

Wolf encouraged Pennsylvania residents to take steps, including the use of energy efficient light bulbs, smart thermostats, or simply turning off the lights.

But former DEP Secretary John Quigley criticized the emissions targets as insufficient, especially given the state’s emissions have already been reduced by the switch from coal to natural gas. Pennsylvania’s carbon emissions dropped almost 23 percent from 2005 to 2016, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

“So a 26% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2025 requires no action and is business as usual,” said Quigley in an email, “if PA’s nukes remain online.”

Wolf did not get into specifics about the current nuclear bailout bills. But one of the report’s 100 actions includes maintaining the state’s current nuclear energy output as carbon-free. And the goals would be nearly impossible to reach without preserving current nuclear energy production.

Wolf recognized the state’s role as an energy producer, without calling directly for any reductions on fossil fuel output.

“But Pennsylvania has always been a place populated by intelligent and forward thinking people,” he said. “So I’m confident that we can make smart decisions that will advance our economy while ensuring the Pennsylvania we pass on to future generations is even healthier than the one we inherited.”

The Climate Action Plan does not see a future without fossil fuels. When it comes to natural gas, the plan encourages industry to curb methane leaks.

The report detailed future risks posed to the state by global warming, including more frequent extreme weather events, paired with periods of drought, heat waves, and increased precipitation overall. Public health risks from air pollution, decreased water quality and excessive heat are expected to increase, along with an increase in energy demand in the summer and decreased demand in winter. Farmers will face greater challenges from pests, weeds and diseases.

Philadelphia and communities along the Delaware River will see more frequent flooding and impacts from sea level rise. The tidal Delaware Estuary could experience diminished water quality. And areas in the Ridge and Valley region could see wetlands drying up.

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