(Stock photo)

We’re coming up short. 

According to the world’s leading climate experts, we’ve reached a critical tipping point in our shared fight against rising temperatures caused by human activity. 

That’s the conclusion from the latest report by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The report, which included findings gathered in the IPCC’s sixth assessment cycle, was presented as a “final warning.” It concluded that the next decade will be critical in keeping warming to less than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial averages. 

The necessary steps to mitigate the worst impacts of a warming world will require attention from all levels of government — which means it’s past time for elected officials in Harrisburg to start taking action.

As the leader of an environmental nonprofit, I’ve paid close attention to these reports from the IPCC and other reputable groups and their increasingly dire warnings. It can be exhausting working to advance an equitable clean energy transition when there’s so much money and influence from the fossil fuel lobby and others propping up the status quo. 

I suppose it’s naïve to think this report will prompt lawmakers to act differently.

But the reality is, it gets harder and harder to ignore climate change with each passing day (and much more expensive to address it). This past January was the fifth-warmest on record in the United States. California recently experienced unprecedented rainfall and flooding. Rising temperatures and extreme weather are impacting people in Pennsylvania right now.

For as chilling as the IPCC findings are, researchers do offer hope and actionable takeaways for policymakers. Two points alone could serve as a roadmap for lawmakers in Harrisburg:

  • Expand access to renewable energy
  • Improve transportation efficiency (by prioritizing electric vehicles as well as walking, cycling, and public transit)

These are widely accepted solutions with proven approaches. As Pew notes, “One of the best ways to decrease emissions is to supplant the use of fossil fuels with clean energy. Renewable energy such as solar and wind no longer face technical or economic barriers, but they still face political barriers to wide-scale use.”

Participation in the multi-state Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) provides one commonsense, market-based solution to cut carbon pollution. Projections say it could reduce Pennsylvania’s CO2 emissions by up to 227 million tons by 2030, result in $6 billion in monetized health benefits, and return hundreds of millions of dollars to the commonwealth annually for reinvestment in our communities.

But while Pa. finalized rules to link with RGGI almost a year ago, the program has been stalled in court thanks to a lawsuit by Republican legislators, who had previously spent years trying to kill it via legislation.

The realities of climate change are complicated. There are genuine debates to be had around how developed and developing nations should share the responsibilities of taking action. Around the globe, we must be thoughtful about the solutions we deploy and ensure they complement one another to maintain a sustainable life for all.

The picture in Harrisburg is far less complex. 

Pennsylvania is the second-largest methane gas producing state in the country. Methane has 87 times the global warming power of carbon dioxide during its first 20 years in the atmosphere, and it leaks across every segment of the oil and gas supply chain.

In recent years, however, lawmakers in Harrisburg have moved to increase methane production, not reduce it. They’ve pushed to subsidize expanded fracking to use gas as a feedstock at petrochemical facilities, such as the Shell plastics plant in Beaver County. They want to frack methane gas and export it overseas, raising prices at home. Meanwhile, they continue to bog down proven solutions like RGGI. 

IPCC Chair Hoesung Lee put it best: “We are walking when we should be sprinting.”

I ask Republican lawmakers: Why aren’t we sprinting toward solutions that will ensure a healthy, livable future for our children? Where is the urgency to act? 

Joseph Otis Minott is president of the Clean Air Action Fund. He writes from Philadelphia.