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How Philly can be a climate leader post-Paris
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How Philly can be a climate leader post-Paris

Two Philly residents were in Paris for the recent COP 21 (AKA climate talks). Here’s what they think Philly needs to do next.

by Pouné Saberi, MD, MPH | Physicians for Social Responsibility & Anthony Giancatarino | Policy Chair, Green Justice Philly/Director of Policy and Strategy at Center for Social Inclusion

Paris Vs. Philadelphia Climate Goals

As the world emerges from Paris, a speedy transition to a fossil-free economy is essential. World leaders set a goal of keeping temperature increase well below 2 degrees Celsius with an aim towards a limit of 1.5 degrees, the scientific point in which we can avert the greatest catastrophe for people living along the coasts.

To achieve this goal, we need to have a carbon-free economy and energy system by 2050.

In the Intended National Development Contribution (INDC), the US committed to reductions of carbon emissions of pre-2005 levels of 26% by 2025. It is a start, but not enough. The political gridlock amongst our national leaders hinders our ability to reach beyond our goals. Instead, we must look to our cities and states for action. U.S. Mayors from Chicago, Los Angeles and New York all committed to 100% renewable energy production by 2050.

We are strongly encouraged by Mayor Kenney’s commitment to reduce emissions of 80% by 2050. But, we’re asking him to take it one step further: We want to see Philadelphia on a pathway to 100% renewable energy generation by 2050. This is a big undertaking, but not to shy away from. It requires innovation, grit, and a die-hard commitment – three qualities that describe Philadelphians perfectly. We are up to the challenge.

Energy Hub Dilemma

But, we can only achieve these goals when all of us have the opportunity to participate and eschew the false solutions (like the proposed oil and natural gas hub).

Mayor Nutter’s foundational Greenworks and Green City, Clean Waters programs have positioned Philadelphia as innovators of sustainability. But progress is still needed. Too many low-income residents live in energy-inefficient homes and are energy insecure, having to choose between paying their utility bills or food, medicine, and rent. This is a situation no American should ever have to face.

Despite world leaders calling for transition away from dirty energy, Philadelphia continues to debate the merits of becoming the “Houston on the Delaware”, a refining and distribution hub of shale extracted natural gas and oil in the East Coast. What are the costs to the workers and residents’ health near these pollution zones?

Our children need a better future and our workers need more dignified economic opportunities. Gas and oil are energy sources of the last century and the city would be shortsighted if it looks to create short-term jobs through this industry. Ten years ago, people looked to natural gas a bridge fuel, but it turned out to be more of a plank to nowhere given the fugitive methane emissions, a potent greenhouse gas. Fortunately we do not need a bridge. The technology around renewable energy and storage is here. It is up to us on how we use them. This is why we call on Mayor Kenney and the City Council to work towards the goal of 100% clean and renewable energy. We are clear – this will take a lot of work. But the economic, health and environmental payoffs will be worth it.

New Solutions for Mayor Jim Kenney

To help jump start our efforts we believe Mayor Kenney should create a Just Transition Fund that would invest in environmental justice, low-income communities and communities in the climate vulnerable areas to build the necessary infrastructure for clean energy economy.

We must create a pathway for our workers, especially those in the utility, the refineries and fossil fuel economy. Moving to a 100% renewable city should not mean that we ignore or demonize workers trying to feed their families. This fund would help provide wage guarantees, health benefits, and pension support for near-retirement workers, and job training and placement services for newer ones.

Need more inspiration? This past December, Senators Sanders, Markey and Merkley introduced the Clean Energy Worker Just Transition Act that outlines such a plan. But we cannot wait for the Senate to act. Philadelphia can be the first major city to create such a Fund to set the course for state and national policies.

As we face the challenges of climate change, we need to build on the momentum of Paris. Let’s get out in front, Philly.

Agree with this message? Tweet this: Yo @PhillyMayor, let’s race NYC to 100% clean renewable energy from solar & wind. We need to reduce emissions NOW. 

Pouné Saberi, MD, MPH | poune@psrphila.org
Anthony Giancatarino | agiancatarino@gmail.com

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Julie Hancher is Editor-in-Chief of Green Philly, sharing her expertise of all things sustainable in the city of brotherly love. She enjoys long walks in the park with local beer and greening her travels, cooking & cat, Sir Floofus Drake. View all posts by Julie Hancher

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