10. We Are Still In (The Paris Agreement), Now What?

This show aired on Friday May 10, 2019 on PhillyCAM’s radio station WPPM 106.5 FM in Philadelphia. Soon, you can hear the audio afterwards as a podcast. The script is below. Produced by Meenal & Cameron, with technical assistance from Vanessa at PhillyCAM.

Hello and welcome to Philly Talks Climate — where we talk about the climate crisis, how it affects Philadelphia, and how we solve this for our region. I’m Meenal Raval, and I’ll be your host. I’m joined this week by a new friend Cameron.

Last week

Last week we talked about the Ready for 100 movement in Chicago and a Green New Deal for New York City, and how this could look for Philadelphia. We can still remind our Mayor & Council members of their commitment to the Paris Climate Accord back in 2017. Ask them about resolution 170706, and what they’re doing to reduce Citywide emissions 28% by 2025, and by 80% by 2050.

Remember that our Mayor as well as all City Council members are up for re-election this year, and more likely to listen to us. You can find their contact details on the Engage page at Philly Talks Climate dot com.

News You Can Use

This week, we’ll start off with some News You Can Use… On April 29th, Governor Tom Wolf joined the US Climate Alliance.  By doing so, Pennsylvania joined 24 US states, represented by 24 governors, in our commitment to the Paris Climate Accord.

If you remember, the Paris Climate Accord, also known as the Paris Agreement, was signed in 2016, when most nations committed to reducing their emissions 28% by 2025, and 80% by 2050, using a baseline of 2005 emissions. Though the US agreed to this under President Obama, the next administration decided they wanted no part of this international agreement.

Infuriated by this, many businesses & investors, cities & counties, colleges & universities, cultural institutions, health care organizations, faith groups, states and tribes stepped up, claiming that they, the many groups and people that make up the United States of America — that they are still in the Paris Agreement. This movement was dubbed We Are Still In. And today, We Are Still In has over 3700 member organizations.

In parallel, the US Climate Alliance was formed as an alliance of US Governors. As part of the US Climate Alliance, each member state commits to: Implement policies that advance the goals of the Paris Agreement, aiming to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 26-28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. Each member state also commits to track and report progress to the global community in appropriate settings, including when the world convenes to take stock of the Paris Agreement. Thirdly, each member state commits to accelerate new and existing policies to reduce carbon pollution and promote clean energy deployment at the state and federal level.

The US Climate Alliance is bipartisan and represents 55% of the US population. So this is a big deal!

What to make of Governor Wolf joining the US Climate Alliance?

When we first learned of Governor Wolf joining the US Climate Alliance, we were excited!

Now, not only had our City’s Mayor Kenney and our Philadelphia City Council, but also our State’s Governor Wolf stepped up to commit to the Paris Climate Accord. Real climate action for our region could be possible!

For a few days, I even savored this quote from Governor Wolf’s Facebook page on April 30, 2019

Pennsylvania is the newest member of the U.S. Climate Alliance, a bipartisan group of 24 states committed to reducing greenhouse gases. With the federal government turning its back on science, I am proud to join states fighting the real threat of climate change.

But then I began wondering… Mayor Kenney signed the Mayors for Clean Energy pledge in June of 2017, pledging support for 100% clean energy. Yet he continues to support new fossil fuel projects in Philadelphia. Notably, SEPTA’s Nicetown gas plant and PGW’s proposed LNG facility. Both continue to be questioned by many groups.

Our City Council, too, passed resolution 170706 to commit to the Paris Climate Accord, back in September 2017. They, too, seemed to not see any conflict between committing to the Paris Climate Accord and supporting new fossil fuel projects. City Council seems to put all their trust in our Office of Sustainability’s ability to do their job, without seeing the inconsistency in their own thinking, or the vastness of the climate crisis.

So perhaps we shouldn’t be getting excited over our Governor joining the US Climate Alliance? We’ve known that Governor Wolf has supported fracking and pipeline development promoted by the extractive gas industry in our state for years, even before he became Governor the first time. This despite many public groups expressing concerns about long-term health and environmental damage. So I held back my excitement and watched other news roll in…

This is Meenal and Cameron, on Philly Talks Climate.

While we were wondering what to make of Governor Tom Wolf‘s joining the US Climate Alliance in light of his support for the gas industry in our state, there appeared an article by Karen Feridun of Berks County.

Like Meenal, Karen is a graduate of the Climate Reality Project, a training offered by Vice President Al Gore and others, equipping everyday people with tools, training and a network to become climate activists. This is a movement of over 19,000 leaders — By the people. Of the People. For the Planet.

Karen’s article titled “Is this the Way the World Ends?” reminded us that…

Pennsylvania saw devastating floods last summer and 14 tornados last month, 7 times the normal number.  All in the same week and within a day or two apart.

And that…

per a Franklin & Marshall poll this spring, 68% of Pennsylvanians want the government to do more on climate change.

Days after Governor Wolf’s announcement to join the US Climate Alliance, he made the 45th stop on his tour to pitch… Restore Pennsylvania.

Restore Pennsylvania commits, nay — condemns, our state to more decades of drilling and fracking, more pipelines, more processing plants, power plants, export facilities, and countless more emissions.

Karen continues…

We need leaders and we need a real climate plan. Real leaders would attack the problem head on. Their aim would be to transition off of fossil fuels as quickly as possible. They’d make a plan. A real climate plan would start by setting a deadline for achieving our climate goals and working backward to figure out how we get there. A real climate plan would ask questions like ….

What mix of fuels will it take to make it to 100% renewable energy?

What’s the proper way to phase out fossil fuels? For instance, does it really make sense to take an aging coal-fired power plant offline five years earlier than it would be decommissioned if it means replacing it with a costly new natural gas power plant built to last 40 years that will require a costly new pipeline built to last at least as long?

What programs must we create to help all Pennsylvanians transition to renewable energy?

How will we ensure that workers aren’t hurt in the transition?

What job training do we need to provide?

How will we address the impacts of the climate crisis we can’t avoid?

How will the state ensure food security?

How will the state provide assistance to Pennsylvanians devastated by floods? And, no, funding recovery efforts with severance tax dollars from fracking that will just exacerbate climate change that will, in turn, intensify storms and lead to more flooding, as Restore Pennsylvania aims to do, isn’t the answer.

Great questions, right?

A couple of days after Karen’s article, Mark Szybist of the Natural Resources Defense Council (or NRDC) published their perspective. It’s called — PA Has a Climate Action Plan – Now PA Needs Climate Action.

NRDC’s proposal for 80% reduction by 2050, source: Inside Climate News

They too commend Governor Wolf for joining the US Climate Alliance. And remind us that our Pennsylvania DEP, our Department of Environmental Protection, has had a Climate Action Plan since 2008, updated just last month. What’s new about this year’s Climate Action Plan is that it not only mentions reducing our emissions, but also adapting to the already felt effects of the climate crisis in Pennsylvania. So far so good.

We also learned that our state’s Climate Action Plan, with all it’s recommendations, would only get us to a 21 percent reduction by 2025 and a 36 percent reduction by 2050. This didn’t sound good enough, since our emission reduction targets need to be 25% reduction by 2025, and 80% reduction by 2050.

NRDC projects that, if we continue with our current policies, our statewide emissions are expected to rise from 257 million metric tons to 280 million metric tons by 2050. Our goal of 80% reduction from 2005 emissions means we need to get our emissions to 58 million metric tons by 2050, not 280 million metric tons.

Governor Wolf and many of today’s legislators may not be around in 2050, but that’s no excuse for missing our target. Our state’s policies supporting the gas industry’s extraction and transportation of fossil fuel resources deep underground need to change. The fossil fuel resources, be they coal, oil or gas, need to be kept deep underground. Instead, we need to look to the wind and the sun to power us into the future. We need leadership willing to stand up against fracking and pipelines. We need leadership willing to lead on climate.

A couple of weeks ago, we talked about the nuclear bailout being proposed in Harrisburg, in the name of emissions free electricity and climate action. That too is taking us in the wrong direction. It’s time to sunset the nuclear power plants in our state.  You can find out more by listening to our episode titled: Emissions-free Electricity and the Nuclear Bailout on Philly Talks Climate.

What could Pennsylvania do differently?

We need to increase the amount of electricity generated from renewable sources. Yes, each of us could invest in rooftop solar for our homes, and we need to ramp this up, certainly.

In addition, we can demand that our electric utilities increase the amount of electricity they generate from renewable sources.

We can do this via our state’s Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards, or AEPS. The AEPS is a mandate from the state requiring electric utilities to supply a percentage of their electricity from alternative sources, renewable sources such as solar, wind, geothermal and hydropower.

Currently, we require our utilities to generate only 8% of our electricity from renewables. Only 8% by 2021.  

There is leadership by Senators Steve Santarsiero, Art Haywood, and Tom Killion to increase this requirement. Their Senate Bill, SB 600, would raise the renewable energy targets in our AEPS from 8% to 30% by 2030.

In the House, Representatives Carolyn Comitta and Steve McCarter have introduced a companion bill, HB 1195.

So for this week’s Engage with your Elected Reps segment, it may be worth reading up on SB 600 and HB 1195 and alerting your own reps to support these bills. You can find details on the Engage page of Philly Talks Climate.

What could Philly do now?

So, much like the inconsistency in Governor Wolf’s messaging about climate action, we need to remind our City Council and Mayor of their inconsistency. We could remind them Council about resolution 170706, and Mayor Kenney about his Mayors For Clean Energy Pledge. And that both commitments mean we don’t get to build new fossil fuel projects.

Mayor Kenney tweeted about upholding the Paris Agreement back in June of 2017 and again recently.


Our Office of Sustainability, who updated Philly’s entry on the We Are Still In website, says they are interested in collaborating to support electrifying everything in our buildings, including heating without fossil fuels, and to advocate for stronger climate policy at the local level. Our Office of Sustainability would also like to aggregate our demand for renewable energy and to encourage more aggressive state renewable energy policies.

They need our help pushing City Council and the Mayor. Check out our Engage page at Philly Talks Climate.

It’s time now, to…

Connect with others concerned about the climate

Tomorrow, on Saturday May 11th, all are invited to a benefit concert. Called “Paradise Lost…and Restored: a benefit concert for California Fire Relief”, this will be at the Church of St Martin in the Fields in Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia from 4 till 6.

The tragedy of Paradise calls our attention to the increasing frequency of “natural” disasters associated with climate change, whether in California, Houston, Puerto Rico, or right here in Philadelphia.

You can find details on the Connect page of Philly Talks Climate dot com.

And on Sunday, May 12th, join Extinction Rebellion’s Philly team at 11 for their weekly open air gathering at Rittenhouse Square in Center City Philadelphia. You’ve heard about Extinction Rebellion in London, blocking bridges and busy intersections, demanding climate action now! It’s time to plan such rebellions here, don’t you think?

Again, you can find details on the Connect page at Philly Talks Climate dot com.

You’ve been listening to Philly Talks Climate. Thanks for listening with Meenal and Cameron!


Media references


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