Tackling Pennsylvania’s climate action goals with comprehensive, data-driven strategic planning

Pennsylvania Climate Action Plan 2021 uses elements of our CO2Sight platform to create an ambitious, multi-sector approach to reducing greenhouse gases. It relies on an adaptation pathways approach to chart a course for Pennsylvania to become more prepared for and resilient to climate risks and impacts.

RESULTS AT A GLANCE

80%
reduction in GHGs by 2050 if all strategies are implemented
42K
projected new jobs annually from 2022-2050 if GHGs are reduced 80%
How can a state meet ambitious greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction targets while maximizing the benefits of climate actions? Pennsylvania Climate Action Plan 2021 outlines a bold, multi-sector approach to significantly reduce GHG emissions with short- and long-term goals. It outlines adaptation pathways that will increase preparedness and resilience to climate change while providing economic and public health benefits equitably for all Pennsylvanians.

Challenge

Pennsylvania needs to significantly cut GHG emissions and adapt to the changing climate to protect the health and safety of all Pennsylvanians. If GHGs are not significantly reduced, it’s expected that the state will experience an average 5.9-degree-Fahrenheit rise in temperature and a 2.1-foot sea level rise in the Delaware Estuary Zone. Meeting the state GHG reduction targets of 26% by 2025 and 80% by 2050 will require a transformational shift in how Pennsylvanians live, work, play, and do business. In addition, residents across the state rely on functioning infrastructure and a healthy environment for jobs, wellbeing, and leisure. For the nearly 30% of residents who live in environmental justice communities statewide, the consequences of climate change are the most burdensome. Increased average temperatures, heatwaves, and flooding disproportionately impact vulnerable populations.

To address these needs and follow the requirements of the Pennsylvania Climate Change Act of 2008, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) led the development of the 2021 Climate Action Plan, in collaboration with multiple state agencies and the state Climate Change Advisory Committee. Governor Tom Wolf announced Pennsylvania Climate Action Plan 2021 in September of 2021, which identifies 18 strategies to meet the state’s GHG emissions reduction goals. It also presents ways for Pennsylvania to adapt to the impacts of climate change over time.


Solution

Conducting strategic planning for short and long-term climate actions requires informed data analysis and modeling and an understanding of the mechanisms and actors needed to drive progress. Working closely with DEP and Pennsylvania State University and Hamel Environmental Consulting, we took two types of approaches to plan for the state’s GHG reduction and climate adaptation goals. These approaches and the plan recognize that providing options that reach all communities is a key to meeting the Commonwealth’s climate goals.

Relying on components of our decarbonization strategic planning platform CO2Sight, we worked closely with DEP and its Climate Change Advisory Committee (CCAC) to create a potential pathway to achieve the state’s GHG targets, exploring different strategies and associated reductions, costs, and economic benefits through a data-driven analytic approach. Then we applied the lens of public health and equity to assess each strategy’s impacts and mapped out initial options for implementation.

Starting with an analysis of climate risks and impacts in the 2021 Pennsylvania Climate Impacts Assessment allowed DEP, the CCAC, and our team to directly correlate climate risks to adaptation pathways—or approaches for managing climate risk over time—for the Commonwealth. Adaptation pathways outline the steps, options, and decision points involved over time while considering economic, social, and environmental outcomes. Such pathways reduce vulnerabilities and create a more resilient Pennsylvania.


CO₂Sight: Decarbonization and energy planning platform

CO₂Sight: Decarbonization and energy planning platform

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“[Pennsylvania Climate Action Plan 2021] charts how we can meet our statewide greenhouse gas reduction goals and adapt to current climate change impacts to help protect Pennsylvanians’ health and safety, livelihoods, and quality of life, as well as their children’s futures.”
— Patrick McDonnell, Secretary, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection
The result is one of the most comprehensive state plans to address climate change. The plan evaluates cost-effective strategies for reducing GHG emissions while focusing on health, economics, and equity, and charts a potential reduction pathway to achieve the Commonwealth’s GHG targets. Strategies include transformative approaches to reduce emissions from electricity generation, transportation, agriculture, fuel supply, and residential and commercial buildings. Pennsylvania Climate Action Plan 2021 also charts specific adaptation pathways for priority climate change hazards already impacting the state—which are expected to worsen if emissions are not reduced.

Results

Successful implementation of the Climate Action Plan relies on the following principles:

  • Focusing on the needs of vulnerable communities and the effects of actions on equity, access, and inclusion
  • Collaboration between government and stakeholders
  • Monitoring and evaluation assessments of strategies

Such implementation methods improve public health, safety, and welfare; mitigate adverse impacts on traditionally marginalized communities; help to address the legacy impacts of past discrimination, racism, and environmental injustice; and ensure that all Pennsylvanians benefit from a cleaner, greener environment.

Reaching the 80% reduction target by 2050 will require implementation of all strategies analyzed, but the largest reductions are anticipated to come from:

34%

Decrease in emissions from electricity generation

21%

Reduction in emissions from transportation

16%

Decrease in emissions from industrial sources

14%

Reduction in emissions from direct use of fuels in buildings

Compared to BAU levels

13%

Decrease in emissions related to fuel supply
"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.”
— Allison Acevedo, Environmental Justice Director, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection

Implementation of the modeled GHG reduction strategies result in an annual average increase of about 42,000 jobs. Combined, the strategies would result in over one million cumulative job-years by 2050. To put these results in context, annual employment impacts are estimated to range from roughly 0.1% increase to slightly less than 1.0% (in 2050) increase, which averages out to about a 0.51% increase through 2050. According to another 2021 study, Pennsylvania will create a projected estimate of 243,000 net jobs annually from 2021-2030 through clean energy investments. Clean energy jobs pay more on average than the occupation’s statewide median wage and employ a more diverse labor force. High job growth rate, above average pay, and more diverse labor indicate that this clean energy transition can help improve equitable public health outcomes in Pennsylvania.

In addition to jobs, implementation of the Climate Action Plan will also lead to health and equity benefits. GHG reduction strategies have the potential to advance health and equity by improving air quality in disproportionately impacted communities, reducing energy bills in low-income households through building weatherization and strategic electrification, increasing transit options in areas with low accessibility, and much more. Similarly, adaptation pathways can improve equity by providing vulnerable communities with shelter from extreme temperatures and reducing the risk of health hazards from extreme weather events and vector-borne diseases.

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