The Wolf administration issued a report Wednesday projecting that the average annual temperature in Pennsylvania will rise 5.9 degrees by 2050, posing increased risks to the environment and human health.
Officials from multiple state agencies announced Wednesday the findings of the 2021 Climate Impacts Assessment report, saying it underscores a need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The state Department of Environmental Protection makes the periodic assessment under orders by the state’s Climate Change Act. The last assessment in 2015 anticipated a 5.4-degree average statewide increase from a baseline period of 1971 to 2000, so newer data suggest warming has accelerated.
The new assessment projects that all 67 counties will continue to get warmer and annual rainfall will increase 8%, particularly in winter and spring.
“With these projected changes, no one can expect Pennsylvanians lives to stay as they are now,” said DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell.
Rafiyqa Muhammad, an environmental justice community leader in Harrisburg, mentioned at the Wednesday news conference “crazy storms coming out of nowhere” that have impacted her area.
“We need to take action immediately,” Muhammad said. “We can’t wait until midcentury.”
Cindy Adams Dunn, secretary of the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, said summertime heat is already a deadly threat in urban areas like Philadelphia, and overall warming is affecting snow cover, important for winter sports, such as skiing and snowmobiling.
Russell Redding, secretary of the Department of Agriculture, cited climate change as a driver of invasive species and stress on animals.
“As the seasons change and temperatures increase, it will change what we grow, when we plant, and when we harvest.”
Among the report’s projections, warmer weather will:
Cause temperatures to reach at least 90 degrees on 37 days per year on average across the state, up from five days during the baseline period.
Result in more days reaching temperatures above 95 and 100 degrees.
Alter the growing season.
Increase the number of days people need to cool homes and offices, while decreasing the number of days people need heat.
Cause the number of extreme rainfall events to increase in magnitude, frequency, and intensity.
Result in more tidal flooding in the Delaware Estuary coastal zone, which includes Philadelphia, Bucks and Delaware Counties.
The report pulled from updated climate modeling of 32 scenarios based on current global greenhouse gas emissions and was written by the DEP with help from Penn State and ICF, a Virginia-based consulting firm.
Its authors identified the most pressing concerns as reducing risks of extreme heat on vulnerable populations. The report said agriculture, recreation, and tourism will all need help adapting to a warmer climate, as will forests, ecosystems, and wildlife. It cited a need to reduce flood risks to infrastructure and communities, help low-income households cope with an increased energy burden, and mitigate risks from tropical storms and landslides.
The report states that health impacts from increased temperatures include heat-related illnesses or deaths, allergies, mosquito- and tick-borne illnesses, violence and crime, anxiety and mood disorders. Flooding can disrupt critical services, create more hazardous driving conditions, and expose people to contaminated floodwater and indoor mold growth.
The report placed particular importance on environmental justice, given that not all residents will be affected equally. Age, race and ethnicity, income, lack of transportation, having to work outdoors, or living close to toxic sites or hazardous facilities all play a role in worsening outcomes from heat and wetter weather.
Flooding poses the highest risk to the state, the report found, but noted that risks from increasing average temperatures and heat waves could pose a similar threat.
Wednesday’s report came a day after the Wolf administration proposed a rule to lower carbon emissions through a program that sets an emissions cap by giving power plants allowances, which they can buy and sell on the market. Companies that reduce emissions benefit; those that don’t, pay a price.
The rule is needed for the state to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, an effort by 11 states, including neighboring New Jersey and New York, to lower power plant emissions 30% by 2030. The Wolf administration wants to join the group, but the GOP-controlled legislature has been fighting it.
The rule would reduce emissions by roughly 3% a year from 2022 to 2030, and reduce overall emissions by about 25%. That would mean the state’s fossil fuel mix would have to change. In 2018, the latest figures available, nuclear accounted for 34% of the state’s electrical power production, followed by natural gas at 36%, and coal at 24%. Hydro, wind, solar, and other renewables accounted for nearly 6%, all trending upward.
Mandy Warner, of the Environmental Defense Fund, called the proposed rule “a critical moment” in Pennsylvania’s effort to change the trajectory of emission releases. Warner said nuclear could play a key role in lowering carbon emissions.
Natural gas, she said, which produces far less carbon dioxide than coal does, would continue to be a part of electric generation for years under a cap-and-trade program that, if it clears some big hurdles, would go into effect in 2022.