Pennsylvania Preparing for Climate Change


State of Preparedness: Pennsylvania

In the past few months, a number of states have released plans detailing how they plan to prepare for climate change. I have reviewed efforts by Maryland and Oregon so far. Today we’ll look at Pennsylvania’s adaptation planning effort.

Pennsylvania’s state of preparedness

Pennsylvania finished its climate change adaptation plan earlier this year. The work was carried out by four working groups focused on infrastructure, natural resources, tourism and outdoor recreation, and public health and safety. American Rivers staff member Liz Garland in the Camp Hill, PA office co-chaired the infrastructure working group, and she was instrumental in developing a strong set of recommendations that can help the state reduce its exposure to climate change.

Each group identifies key vulnerabilities and recommends a set of solutions. For example, the infrastructure working group identifies more extreme storms, drier summers, and rising temperatures as threats to waterways and water infrastructure. To combat these impacts, the report recommends greater investments in water efficiency, protection and restoration of floodplains and wetlands, and greater planning support for water utilities.

Most importantly, the report authors pick out a number of cross-cutting recommendations from the results of the workgroups. A few of those are worth examining here. First among these cross-cutting recommendations is greater use of green infrastructure. The adaptation team notes that green infrastructure is a “no regrets” strategy that provides multiple benefits and builds resilience to climate change impacts like more extreme storms, droughts, and heat waves.

The report also recommends conserving fish and wildlife habitat as an adaptation measure through strategies such as riparian stream buffers, dam removals, and migration corridors. These types of approaches can help both wildlife and people withstand the impacts of climate change.

These cross-cutting recommendations also include suggestions about integrating climate change considerations into government planning and operations, establishing a climate adaption team, and undertaking education and outreach efforts.

On a broad level, Pennsylvania’s adaptation plan seems to get it right. It focuses on the need to integrate climate change considerations throughout the government and embrace low-cost, multiple benefit solutions. As with many states, there could be greater specificity about how these goals will actually be implemented. The plan calls for increased use of green infrastructure, but it doesn’t, for example, suggest targeting more state infrastructure funding toward green approaches.

Similarly, there are few suggested policy reforms that would begin to protect and restore the ecosystems, migration corridors, and riparian buffers that are identified as vital to climate preparedness. The real test will be whether the state takes the next step to embed these recommendations into policymaking and planning. It remains to be seen especially whether the new governor will support these types of initiatives.

This plan is a good start, but there’s much more work to be done before Pennsylvania truly becomes prepared for the impacts of climate change.