Prove your humanity

A new study says Pennsylvania’s cities and towns will need to spend more than $15 billion by 2040 to protect residents from the effects of climate change.

The analysis does not include the price of recovering from climate-related disasters. It was created by the Center for Climate Integrity, an advocacy group that aims to hold polluters accountable.

The report used data on municipal budgets from the U.S. Census Bureau and cost projections for initiatives including air conditioning upgrades for schools, creating neighborhood cooling centers, planting street trees, and maintaining roads and bridges.

CCI says at least some of the costs for climate adaptation should be paid by fossil fuel companies that contributed to climate disruption.

Is climate change causing extreme weather?

Extreme weather events are a natural part of Earth’s weather system, but climate scientists say human-induced climate change is making them more likely, more frequent, and more severe. It works like this: greenhouse gases cause air temperatures to rise. Warmer air leads to more water evaporation. If there are several high heat days close together, unusually dry or even drought conditions can occur. Eventually, the extra water vapor falls, often as heavier rain storms. This can lead to flooding, especially after dry weather or droughts. Without climate mitigation efforts, Pennsylvania’s average annual temperature is expected to increase 5.9 degrees by the middle of this century compared to a baseline average from 1971-2000.
—Shelby Bradford, StateImpact Pennsylvania

How municipalities are impacted

Monica Taylor, Chair of Delaware County Council, said climate change can be seen in dramatic severe weather events.

“But its effects are also being seen in the less dramatic world of local economies, with our current and projected municipal, county, and state budgets starting to grapple with the costs of damaged infrastructure, increased repairs, accelerated maintenance cycles, high energy costs and lost productivity and wages,” Taylor said.

Climate change in Pennsylvania is expected to bring warmer temperatures and more intense storms and flooding.

A storm this month in Bucks County dropped a month’s worth of rain in two hours, causing flooding that killed seven people. It’s the type of disaster climate scientists say will only get more common.

Brittany Reno is the Mayor of Sharpsburg, which sits on the Allegheny River near Pittsburgh. She said climate change is creating a budgeting crisis and public safety nightmare.

“I have neighbors who were rescued by a raft that paddled up to their front door and still haven’t entirely cleaned up their housing, got their indoor air quality worked out years later,” Reno said.

Reno says her community is one of the most flood-prone in the state. The CCI report calculates the borough will need to spend $4 million to adapt to the effects of climate change.

The report says Philadelphia will need to spend $3.3 billion to adapt to increasing heat, precipitation, and rising seas by 2040. That works out to about $190 million per year. The city’s total 2023 budget is $5.8 billion.

CCI says Pittsburgh faces $520 million in adaptation costs. In Harrisburg, it’s $31.8 million. Allentown would need to spend $75 million, by the report’s estimates.

The analysis chose eight areas for cost projections:

  • Installing and upgrading air conditioning in schools ($1.23 billion)
  • Expanding and operating cooling centers ($78.8 million)
  • Planting trees to combat urban heat islands ($1.7 billion)
  • Increasing storm drainage capacity to avoid additional sewage overflows and flooding ($7.8 billion)
  • Increased road maintenance due to increased heavy rain and heat stress ($2.98 billion)
  • Reinforcing bridges against anticipated climate wear and tear ($268 million)
  • Protecting against more frequent landslides ($935 million)
  • Building coastal defenses to prevent infrastructure from rising seas ($547 million)

The estimates are based on a middle-of-the-road warming scenario that puts likely global temperature rise around 5 degrees Fahrenheit.

How adaptation costs could decrease

Destenie Nock, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Carnegie Mellon University who was not involved in the study, said there may be cost savings for communities that use a comprehensive strategy. For example, planting trees would combat urban heat islands and would lower the heat stress on roads.

“While I think the study’s analysis methods are strong, I think that a future work possibility would be to identify how the costs could decrease when cities adopt multiple climate mitigation strategies,” Nock said.

This story is produced in partnership with StateImpact Pennsylvania, a collaboration among The Allegheny Front, WPSU, WITF and WHYY to cover the commonwealth's energy economy.