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2021 Sustainability WeekSustainability Week 2021

Climate Urgency & Action

Earth's Climate is Heating Up

In the past decade, the world has been its hottest in 125,000 years.

As humans' fossil fuel burning activities increase the concentration of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in our atmosphere temperatures are rising, glaciers are retreating, sea level is rising, and extreme weather events are increasing around the world, including in the United States and Pennsylvania.

Many activities generate greenhouse gas emissions: industry, transportation, electricity production, farming, waste management, home heating, and business.

Learn more at Climate Change 2021 from the United Nations and Climate Change Indicators from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The Challenges of Climate Change

Climate change brings increasing challenges to Pennsylvania:

  • Heatwaves will affect Pennsylvanians' health and safety, and especially those who have underlying health conditions, who don't have adequate access to air conditioning, or who live in urban areas.  Heatwaves will affect the livelihoods of Pennsylvanians who work outside in the summer, such as in farming and construction.
  • Pennsylvanians who live in Environmental Justice areas, often in old housing stock and with limited mobility, will be at even more risk.
  • Dairy farming, which requires cooler temperatures, may shift northwest. Hog farming may expand in southern counties.
  • The timing of crop planting and harvesting will be at critical risk from flooding. Flooding events will damage bridges, roads, homes, and businesses and likely increase runoff pollution and soil erosion into streams and rivers.
  • Some plant and animal species will face several simultaneous stresses: decreased and fragmented habitat; increased pests and competitive invasive species; and disruptions to natural cycles, such as migration, hibernation, and leaf development and blooming. 
  • Pennsylvania's recreation and tourism industries will be affected. For example, the ski industry is not expected to survive beyond 2050. Harmful algal blooms on Lake Erie and other lakes will increase, limiting recreation and fishing.

See more projected impacts of climate change in Pennsylvania identified by DEP, ICF Consulting, and Penn State University.

Taking Action to Protect Pennsylvania

Setting statewide climate goals.  Governor Wolf set two statewide goals in 2019 to lower Pennsylvania's GHG emissions compared to 2005 levels: 26 percent less by 2025 and 80 percent less by 2050.  The Governor's Executive Order 2019-01 requires agencies to lead-by-example on climate.

Tracking carbon emissions toward progress. State law has required DEP to track Pennsylvania's yearly greenhouse gas emissions. The latest year for which complete data are available is 2018. Find these data at 2021 Pennsylvania Greenhouse Gas Inventory. 

Working to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.  At Governor Wolf's direction, DEP is developing a rulemaking to enable Pennsylvania to join 10 Northeast states in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. RGGI will cap carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, set up an auction for plants to purchase emissions allowances, and enable state government to use the auction funds to develop new jobs and workforce training in the clean energy sector, especially for Pennsylvania's Environmental Justice communities and traditional energy-generating communities.  

Identifying the most effective framework of climate action for leaders. The 2021 Pennsylvania Climate Action Plan from DEP provides Pennsylvania's government, business, and community leaders a set of actions for buildings, transportation, electricity generation, fuel supply, and other areas that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It also presents ways leaders can lessen the negative impacts from climate change while enabling all Pennsylvanians to benefit equitably from any potential opportunities that arise.

Supporting local climate action planning statewide.  Through the DEP Local Climate Action Program, over 50 participants have measured local greenhouse gas emissions, assessed local climate risks, and worked on community climate action plans to help more than 260 cities, counties, townships, boroughs statewide.  

Making state forests and parks more resilient to climate change. As the caretaker of Pennsylvania's 2.2 million acres of state forest and 121 state parks, DCNR has hired a Director of Applied Climate Science and developed a Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation Plan to prepare for and lessen the risk of range shifts for wildlife and plant species, increased invasive species, and other potential climate change impacts. 

How You Can Have an Impact

  • Be informed on climate change. Sign up for free online courses from the Pennsylvania Climate Leadership Academy.
  • Be the energy efficiency boss at home. Top tip: Weather-seal and insulate your house to lower heating and cooling costs and reduce emissions.
  • Plant trees in your yard or your community. Trees absorb carbon dioxide, keep buildings cooler in the summer, reduce erosion and runoff water pollution, and improve our sense of well-being.
  • For your next vehicle purchase, consider an electric car. Did you know DEP offers rebates on new or used electric vehicles?
  • Ask your municipal leaders how they're working to protect your community from climate change. Suggest that your municipality join the DEP Local Climate Action Program if it hasn't yet.

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Download the Infographic

Click here to download the Climate Urgency & Action infographic.