State Auditor General Eugene DePasquale is planning a special report examining Pennsylvania’s response to climate change.
At a news conference Monday at the state Capitol, DePasquale, a Democrat, said, “The longer we wait, the more expensive and perhaps even more extreme the fix may be.”
A 2008 state law known as Pennsylvania’s Climate Change Act requires the Department of Environmental Protection to publish reports every three years, outlining the impacts of climate change and a state action plan.
DePasquale was vague about how his effort will differ from the work already underway, saying only, “We’re certainly going to be looking at this in a comprehensive way.” He also intends to hold three hearings on climate change in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and State College. He expects to be finished sometime in the summer.
A draft version of Pennsylvania’s newest Climate Action Plan was published last month. DEP is scheduled to discuss it with its Climate Change Advisory Committee on Tuesday. It calls for an 80 percent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, from 2005 levels.
The report also says annual precipitation in the state has increased by approximately 10 percent since the early 20th century, and is expected to increase by another 8 percent by 2050. It outlines 19 strategies for addressing climate change, including promoting clean energy, energy efficiency, monitoring ecosystems vulnerabilities, and providing resources to help farmers and the outdoor tourism industry adapt.
According to DEP, climate-related risks to Pennsylvanians include frequent extreme weather events, injury and death from those extreme weather events, threats to human health through air pollution, diminished water quality, and heat stress. The warming will also affect farmers as it presents changing pest, weed, and disease management challenges.
A majority of Pennsylvania voters say the state should be doing more to address climate change, according to a Franklin & Marshall College/StateImpact Pennsylvania poll published earlier this year.
Global average temperatures have already risen about one degree Celsius over preindustrial levels, and scientists are urging governments to keep further warming below 1.5 Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) – that’s half a degree less than the target set by the 2015 Paris Climate Accord. A United Nations report published last week shows countries are falling far short of their pledges. A major climate conference kicked off this week in Poland, where world leaders are meeting to address the crisis.
The Northeast is the fastest-warming region of the lower 48 states. According to the National Climate Assessment, a report released last month by the U.S. government, the Northeast is “projected to be more than 3.6°F (2°C) warmer on average than during the preindustrial era.” That would be the biggest increase in the contiguous U.S., and it would happen as much as 20 years before global average temperatures reached a similar milestone.
In a Facebook post last week Gov. Tom Wolf said the effects of global climate change are increasing, and “we need to take steps to address this challenge. This is an issue that should not be victim to partisan politics and empty rhetoric.”
This story is produced in partnership with StateImpact Pennsylvania, a collaboration among The Allegheny Front, WESA, WITF and WHYY to cover the commonwealth's energy economy.