Aug. 15, 2016 8:02 am

This Penn energy wonk says global climate goals ‘can be disruptive’ for local governments

Dr. Mark Alan Hughes, faculty director of University of Pennsylvania’s Kleinman Center for Energy Policy, says cities and states need to think about themselves now rather than the entire planet in 2050.

Climate protests in Philadelphia.

(Photo by Flickr user Mark Dixon, used under a Creative Commons license)

It’s easy to adopt a lofty, distant goal. The consequences of not taking action now, however, can be costly.

Especially when we’re talking about climate change.

That’s the problem with the global climate goals like those established in the Paris Agreement last year, or the United Nations’ mission to reduce emissions by 80 percent globally by 2050. Those goals rely on subnational governments like cities and states.

“The biggest challenge is that over half of the programs and policies and investments and changes that are required to meet the national pledges from Paris require actions by subnational governments,” said Dr. Mark Alan Hughes, faculty director of University of Pennsylvania’s Kleinman Center for Energy Policy.

Hughes recently spoke about the issue on panel at the Council of State Governments (CSG) Eastern Regional Conference in Canada’s Québec City.

“The world is literally counting on these local governments to solve this problem,” he said. “Unless they start asking what they should be doing and what it means for them, they will not be able to mobilize the political and financial support needed to make those steps [forward].”

The more sustainable approach to addressing climate change is developing appropriate targets for local conditions. The real conversation in Philadelphia, Hughes said, is whether or not the city should get behind fracking.

People are much more wired to care about tomorrow than 2050.

“It costs nobody anything to adopt a goal. It is, in effect, too easy,” said Hughes. “And it can be even worse. It can be disruptive. It’s the wrong organizing device and we’ll end up doing less than we might have done [otherwise].”

That’s why cities should be focusing on things that capture returns on investments, and last week, Philadelphia’s Office of Sustainability took those steps by refining the city’s Greenworks‘ plan. The new plan reduces climate goals from 15 to eight and cuts benchmarks from revisions made every eight years to every year.

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Earlier this year, the Office of Sustainability released a report detailing how every city department can start preparing for a warmer, wetter Philadelphia.

Cities are on the “front lines” of climate impacts, said Hughes. That’s why they need to set distant global goals on the back burner and start chipping away at local climate issues that require immediate urgency.


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