Climate change is here and now. If left unchecked, it could cost the global economy $178 trillion over the next 50 years, according to a May 2022 report from Deloitte. But if the world acts now to achieve net-zero emissions by mid-century, we turn the global liability – a cost of $178T – into a global economic gain of $43 trillion in 2070.
Decarbonization, or the reduction of carbon emissions from human systems and activities, has quickly elevated as a priority for southwestern Pennsylvania. Increasingly, in our region, the term “decarbonization” is becoming synonymous with hydrogen production as well as carbon capture and storage, yet there is so much more to it.
To truly achieve decarbonization, we must embark on a massive scale-up of renewable energy, energy efficiency, and electrification. This includes solar, wind, and hydropower. It includes a transition to electric vehicles and multimodal transit, and the beneficial electrification of homes and large buildings. It includes regenerative agriculture and land use practices as well as equity-driven investments in workforce development across each of these areas.
If we are to avoid “long lasting and irreversible” impacts. . .
Decarbonizing can reduce cost, correlates with higher returns, and improves resilience against extreme events that impact operations and supply chains.
Additionally, we know that according to CDP, low-emissions products and services represent $2.1T in opportunity.
Increased flooding, landslides, loss of biodiversity, soil depletion – these are all symptoms of a changing climate that must be addressed.
Decarbonization is essential for our region.
After months of gathering feedback with more than 200 regional stakeholders, including hosting an official side event for the Global Clean Energy Action Forum, Sustainable Pittsburgh and CEOs for Sustainability announced at the November 2022 C-Suite Summit key priorities in achieving a comprehensive, regional, equity-driven multi-sector decarbonization strategy:
Regional Priorities that Span Sectors
Change At Scale
We need change that meets the scale of our challenges here in southwestern PA, across companies and in every sector. Implementation of innovations and enabling policies work together to get us there. For example, we need to accelerate clean tech deployment, enable equity-driven workforce development and continue to explore deeper policy changes.
Meaningful Community Engagement
Whether we’re talking urban or rural, or the topic is workforce, transportation, industry, or energy, community involvement is critical for successful design and implementation of solutions. Meaningful, authentic engagement will look different in different sectors.
Measurement and Accountability
Our region needs more robust and comprehensive systems for measurement that can help us track progress on the technologies we’re implementing and the community engagement measures we deploy. These measures must be accountable to both carbon reduction goals and equity goals.
Immediate Next Steps for the Region
- Secure federal investment, centering equity
- Rapidly deploy existing technologies, ensuring accountability
- Develop new technologies and strategies
- Inform creation of new enabling policies
- Equitable workforce development
- Use existing measurements to maximum advantage
- Develop new, more comprehensive systems to track progress through policy and alliances
According to Sustainable Pittsburgh’s analysis, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, also known as the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, allocates $38.5B in competitive programs across multiple sectors including Power and Energy, Transportation, Industry, Buildings, and Land Use and Agriculture. Some of these programs are available to individual companies and some require multi-sector collaboration.
The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) enables almost ten times this amount, primarily through rebates and tax credits, as well as through enabling more diversified capital financing options and support for technical assistance.
Both pieces of legislation have a central focus on equity in underserved, energy justice and environmental justice communities, and the IRA also specifically supports USA manufacturing.
These are the two biggest pieces of enabling legislation we have, to help us achieve scale.
How it All Fits Together
The three key priorities – scale, community engagement, and accountability –bring us to these seven immediate next steps. These next steps, in turn, can help southwestern PA prioritize action plans for both individual organizations and for coalitions. (See graphic below.)
Execution of these action plans will lead to future challenges, activities, and solutions. Moving forward we can make sure to hold space open for innovation and problem-solving.
Emerging from this work is the clear sentiment that this region is poised to lead on decarbonization and reap a number of benefits, including competitive advantage, from the effort.
A comprehensive, multi-sector decarbonization strategy is going to require these three lines of effort, in every sector: policies and implementations that achieve scale, measurement and accountability, and meaningful community engagement.
Sustainable Pittsburgh and CEOs for Sustainability call on businesses, organizations, and communities in southwestern Pennsylvania to commit to the following actions:
- Commit to embracing the change
- Commit to being a learner
- Commit to action on carbon
Sustainable Pittsburgh recognizes that specific guidance on how to move forward is essential. We are continuing to synthesize information around the seven immediate next steps for the region and working with partners to further refine the strategy for achieving at-scale change.
In the meantime, there are two direct ways for businesses and other organizations to engage on advancing an equitable, carbon-free region.
Leading Forward Roadmap
The Leading Forward Roadmap, produced by Sustainable Pittsburgh in partnership with CEOs For Sustainability and the CEOs for Sustainability Advisory Committee, is a hands-on framework and resource for business action.
Sustainable Pittsburgh Workplace
Sustainable Pittsburgh Workplace is a formal recognition program for businesses, institutions, and other organizations that offers a strategic framework and resources for assessing sustainability performance, adopting actions, and reporting quantified progress in areas such as carbon reduction, resource conservation, employee hiring and retention, supplier engagement, and other key topics.