We have just experienced the hottest July ever as well as record-breaking rainfall in Pennsylvania, not to mention that the last five years are the warmest five-year period on record. It’s time for Philadelphia to take bold action on the climate.
Declaring a Climate Emergency would enable the city to mobilize an urgent, collective effort to achieve zero emissions and more quickly reduce carbon in the atmosphere to prevent climate disasters.
The City of Philadelphia has multiple plans and goals to address climate change—enough that it can be hard to keep track. These include:
• The Greenworks program: Established 2009 and updated in 2016 to present multiple visions for a sustainable city including clean and efficient energy, climate prepared and neutral communities, zero waste, and engaged constituents.
• Mayors For 100% Clean Energy: Joined by Mayor Jim Kenney June 2017 to achieve 100% Clean Energy for Philadelphia.
• Municipal Energy Master Plan: Established September 2017 to source 100% clean electricity for municipal operations and energy use.
• Powering Our Future: A Clean Energy Vision: Established August 2018 to cut citywide carbon reduction 80% by 2050
• Connect: Philadelphia’s Strategic Transportation Plan: Established October 2018 to reduce carbon from transportation 10% by 2025.
• A comprehensive climate change mitigation and adaptation plan: To be released in 2020 to meet seven new goals defined at the Global Climate Action Summit.
Yet the City’s action plans are not aggressive enough to avoid irreversible environmental damage. They also leave us individuals to independently navigate our involvement, with minimal support.
A climate emergency requires everyone working together to reach a zero emissions goal at an emergency speed. The Climate Mobilization (TCM), a nonprofit that invokes mobilization on a World War II-scale to avert climate disaster, has plans for a unified effort to reach zero carbon emissions in 10 years.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 2018 report declares that net zero CO2 emissions must be reached in fewer than 15 years before global warming effects become irreversible. Many irreversible effects have already occurred — like melting Antarctic ice sheets and mass species extinction — but we still have time to ensure a livable planet.
Declaring a climate emergency is the only way to tackle this problem with enough urgency and focus.
To date, 975+ local governments in 18 countries have declared climate emergencies. Portland City Council unanimously voted to prohibit construction of new fossil fuel infrastructure within city limits, the City of Berkeley banned natural gas hookups in new homes, and 40 U.S cities have committed to divesting city portfolios from fossil fuels companies. Los Angeles created an Office of Climate Emergency Mobilization which will hold assemblies to engage community members.
The TCM Philadelphia Chapter has been communicating with City Councilperson Helen Gym on an emergency declaration, but this step requires City Council’s broad support.
Philadelphia has prime opportunities to pursue this action. Organizing led by local groups for community solar, and protests against operation of the SEPTA natural gas plant in Nicetown, show that Philadelphians are ready to move beyond fossil fuels toward a renewable future.
The City can facilitate a just transition while creating a bridge between residents and corporations. The declaration of a Climate Emergency must include in its implementation solutions for some of Philadelphia’s other challenges as the poorest large city in the country. For instance, the shift to renewable energy will add jobs, and a zero emissions city will give clean air in a city with a rising asthma problem.
Following the emergency declaration, the city has to prioritize certain goals. TCM’s recommendations focus on renewable energy development, bans on future fossil fuel commitments, and community involvement to reach the IPCC target. Concrete steps we can take include installing solar panels on 70% of suitable roofs and connecting homes to the power grid so excess electricity can be distributed or stored as needed, and building massive solar and wind powered electricity plants to eliminate pollution from coal and natural gas.
We can also contract with manufacturers to build electric cars locally, offer rebates for people who trade their cars in, and install more electric vehicle charging stations. We should update building codes to require commercial structures to follow energy-efficient LEED standards and fund retrofitting of residential buildings for energy efficiency. We can also offer citywide comprehensive composting, which captures carbon and generates usable energy.
Peoples’ health, lives, and future depend on the decisions we make now. We should start with a city-wide declaration that matches the global reality: a climate emergency.