2020 was the hottest year ever recorded. 2019 was the third-hottest, after 2016. In fact, each of the top-ten hottest years in human history was recorded in this century – and we’re not even a quarter of the way through. Meanwhile, Pennsylvanians’ lives and livelihoods are increasingly being disrupted by severe and unpredictable weather events, including disastrous flooding and deadly heatwaves. No longer a distant or theoretical prospect, climate change is already here in a big way. But the latest climate modeling points to a significantly hotter, wetter Pennsylvania in the decades ahead, making the last few years seem mild by comparison.
The Wolf Administration’s 2021 Climate Impacts Assessment, released this week, predicts a higher average annual temperature and more extreme heat and rainfall events by 2050. Compared to a 1971-2000 baseline, the report projects a 5.9°F average increase in annual temperature statewide, rising above 90°F an average of 37 days a year statewide, and even more in some areas. For comparison, between 1971 and 2000, Pennsylvania averaged just five days ayear with temperatures topping 90°. An eight-percent increase in precipitation is also projected, occurring in less frequent but heavier rainfall events, meaning an increase in both flooding and drought is likely.
All of these changes would have substantial consequences for the health and safety of people statewide, as well as for Pennsylvania’s economy, agriculture, and ecosystems. Heatwaves can pose extreme health risks, especially to those who work outside, have existing health conditions, or don’t have access to spaces with air conditioning. More erratic weather events can damage crops and livestock, while warmer temperatures can impact timing of planting and harvest. Changes in temperature and weather have the potential to impact the habitat and range of trees and other species, increase prevalence of pests and invasive species, and threaten species that are already sensitive to habitat changes, such as the Eastern hellbender, the state amphibian.
“With these projected changes, no one can expect Pennsylvanians’ lives to stay as they are now,” said DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell.
“Living this now, living this every day in environmental justice cities and communities, we need to take action immediately. We can’t wait until mid-century. We need to be doing small things now.”
Notably, this was the first Climate Impacts Assessment to specifically provide an analysis of environmental justice and equity concerns for each hazard included in the risk assessment.
“There will be an additional level of risk for over 3.7 million Pennsylvanians who live in over a thousand environmental justice communities statewide. These communities are nearly twice as likely as the statewide average to experience days over 90 degrees,” said Secretary McDonnell. “After almost a century of disinvestment, residents of our EJ communities already face major challenges, such as living near industrial sites with poor air quality and living in older housing stock, often without sufficient air conditioning.”
The report found that climate change will not affect all Pennsylvanians equally. It proposes that as the state works to adapt to climate risks, inequities should be addressed, and measures be taken to ensure efforts do not inadvertently exacerbate existing inequities.
“The purpose of projecting these climate impacts is to spur climate action.”
“Living this now, living this every day in environmental justice cities and communities, we need to take action immediately. We can’t wait until mid-century. We need to be doing small things now,” said Environmental Justice Advisory Board member Rafiyqa Muhammad.
While the results of the Climate Impacts Assessment are sobering, they assume a future in which no action is taken to address the threat of climate change. It is important that we take measures now to ensure this is not the case. Through action and climate policy, there are many opportunities to move past a “business as usual” scenario.
“The purpose of projecting these climate impacts is to spur climate action. It’s clear that if we’re going to protect Pennsylvania from the most direct impacts of climate change, we’ve got to work now to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. And a key first step is the Governor’s effort to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas initiative to reduce emissions from power plants,” said Secretary McDonnell.
Learn about PEC’s policy recommendations for addressing climate change here.
Read the full Climate Impacts Assessment 2021 here.