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Report Calls for Regional Climate Goals in Western Pennsylvania

The International Panel on Climate Change has effectively set the global warming target for the world at large: keep warming under 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. A new report by a southwestern Pennsylvania group has presented a different argument, calling for a climate strategy that would reduce emissions while recognizing the heavy industry and energy sources unique to the region.

The Allegheny Conference on Community Development is a nonprofit civic leadership organization based in Pittsburgh, focused on “setting a vision and building consensus to achieve regional goals.” An energy task force organized by the conference recently released a report analyzing the 10-county region’s role in emissions reductions, developing a southwestern Pennsylvania-specific strategy. The 25-member task force, co-chaired by PNC Financial Services CEO William Demchak and Hillary Mercer, senior vice president of Shell Polymers Pa. Chemicals, included representatives of the region’s business, industrial, and academic sectors.

Titled “Our Region’s Energy Future: a strategy for accelerating decarbonization, investment and inclusive growth in the Pittsburgh region,” the report provides six “strategic levers” that will be necessary for decarbonizing the region. They are:

  1. Develop low-carbon energy and grid improvements

  2. Deploy carbon capture and storage,

  3. Prevent methane emissions,

  4. Electrify transport,

  5. Deploy hydrogen, and

  6. Increase building efficiency and electrification.

Industrial and power-related emissions accounted for 76 percent of southwestern Pennsylvania’s emissions profile in 2019. Within those two sectors, the majority of those emissions come from five sources: 25 percent from coal power, 14 percent from natural gas power, 11 percent from passenger vehicles, 9 percent from coal mining, and another 9 percent from steel manufacturing, according to the report. This reality calls for action to address these emissions, and presents opportunities for counties within the region that rely on such industries to support local economies.

In order to protect the economies of these counties and local communities, the report calls for policies to prevent mass migration from these communities as they navigate the energy transition and decarbonization journey, as well as relaxing atmospheric cooling goals within the region. In lieu of the IPCC’s 1.5 degree Celsius target, the Allegheny Conference argues that a 2.0 degree Celsius mid-point more feasibly fits the region’s industrial and energy realities.

What makes southwestern Pennsylvania unique, is the amount of “hard to abate” emissions related to heavy industry in the region. Meeting the aggressive climate change goals would have a significantly detrimental effect on the region, but through a well-planned energy transition, the emissions profile of the region could attract new industries, such as hydrogen energy technology and carbon capture and sequestration, which could boost local economies and provide jobs for those displaced in the transition.

“As a manufacturing and technology hub with an abundance of natural gas, our region is uniquely positioned to help advance the energy transition. We have an opportunity to better leverage our legacy economy by recognizing natural gas, hydrogen, and other assets as part of the solution,” said Demchak.

The report outlines six primary steps toward accelerating the region’s energy transition, which includes getting regional leaders to scale up decarbonization efforts through the development of hydrogen, carbon capture, and nuclear technology. It also calls for competitive regulations at the state and federal level, government funding, workforce development initiatives, and stakeholder education. The development of an interdependent network of pipelines, carbon capture, and renewable energy that can be used across multiple technologies is also key.

“The energy transition is critical to the future competitiveness of the Pittsburgh region, and it will require collaboration among government, industry, and academia to fully realize our potential,” the report states.

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