The recent UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report released this month provides the latest five-year assessment on the human contributions to global climate change. Their findings show that “Global surface temperature will continue to increase until at least the mid-century under all emissions scenarios considered. Global warming of 1.5°C and 2°C will be exceeded during the 21st century unless deep reductions in CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions occur in the coming decades.”
The effects of climate change are already here, but will get exponentially worse with every incremental rise in temperature if action is not taken. Business as usual and slow mitigation energy policy scenarios will guarantee surface temperatures well in excess of 2.50C compared to pre-industrial levels will become the norm in our lifetime. The last time global surface temperature was sustained above this level was over 3 million years ago, before humans inhabited the planet. The danger this could pose to our communities is unfathomable. This is not hyperbole, this is science.
Without immediate policy actions by all levels of government, including emissions-lowering programs such as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), this will become a reality. Thankfully, Pennsylvania is on the cusp of entering this important initiative — one important piece of a larger puzzle which can help to ensure future generations will be able to live without the threat of worsening climate change.
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Pennsylvanians deserve a future with the health and economic benefits of clean energy’s lower emissions. RGGI, which is currently awaiting final approval by the Independent Regulatory Review Commission (IRRC) in September, is on track to be enacted in 2022. Under this program, Pennsylvania’s largest power plants would buy allowances to account for the carbon they emit.
Those payments (which would generate an estimated $300 million in proceeds for the Commonwealth in the first year alone) would then be invested into helping the communities impacted by power plant emissions and go toward developing new innovations in the clean energy sector. With this program we can help lower emissions per UN recommendations — all while improving air quality and growing jobs in a high-paying sector. RGGI has already proven to be a highly successful market-based model that has helped over eleven other states, and it is time for PA to join their ranks.
As a Carlisle Borough Councilman, I am concerned about the health of my constituents and how current emission levels could impact future generations. And I am not the only one. A 2021 poll released by Clean Jobs for Pennsylvania and PennFuture confirms that an overwhelming majority of Pennsylvanians (73%) are concerned about the future negative impacts of climate change on their children and grandchildren. In light of the UN’s report, these are concerns that need to be addressed now, before the situation escalates further.
The climate science community could not be more clear, the effects of human-caused carbon emissions are here to stay and only the severity is left for us to decide. The time for slow, incremental change to reducing our GHG footprint is well behind us. We must act now to meet the current U.S. Administration’s target of decarbonizing the electricity market by 2035 to avoid climate responses that may exceed our ability to adapt.
Cost-effective technologies that can reduce the worst effects of climate change are ready to be deployed now and only lack energy policies and market mechanisms, like RGGI, to move forward.
Joel Hicks serves on the Carlisle Borough Council.