Pittsburgh Approves Ambitious Climate Action Plan Update

Pittsburgh Skyline

R.A. Killmer

Pittsburgh’s City Council has reaffirmed its climate ambitions by approving a Climate Action Plan 3.0, setting out a holistic vision for how the city will achieve dramatic greenhouse gas reductions in the near future. The plan builds on previous versions with a new ambitious goal of 80% reductions below 2003 levels by 2050.


The plan, approved 8-0 with one councilmember abstaining, was the product of a multi-year planning process with substantial civic participation. The process engaged over 400 residents representing 90 organizations from the business and non-profit sectors, as well as local, state, and federal government partners. The result expands and elaborates upon two previous Climate Action Plans, approved in 2008 and 2012, which proposed a number of measures to achieve GHG reductions. The new plan tracks progress since the previous versions and adds new measures to further slash emissions. Part of this strategy includes strong leadership from the city itself, aligning with the climate goals made three years ago by Mayor William Peduto. By 2030 the city will have divested city funds from fossil fuels and transitioned city operations to use 100% renewable electricity and a fully fossil fuel free fleet of vehicles.


Given that buildings account for over 80% of citywide greenhouse gas emissions, building energy efficiency is highlighted in the plan as a key area for achieving the city’s emission reductions. The plan underscores the importance of recent work, such as a 2016 benchmarking policy for large commercial buildings and the voluntary achievements by a local community of high performing buildings committed to dramatically reduce their energy consumption called the Pittsburgh 2030 District. The plan also identifies a wide range of additional strategies for buildings to achieve a mid-term goal of 50% energy reduction by 2030. For example, the city intends for all newly constructed buildings to be carbon neutral by 2030 by using passive house standards and to use energy usage transparency to reduce consumption among residential buildings, using energy labeling and transparency strategies. The city also hopes to implement a PACE program locally to provide funds for local retrofit and upgrade projects.


The steps necessary to accomplish its emission reductions goals will not be easy. The most recent citywide greenhouse gas inventory conducted in 2013 showed that emissions had actually increased by ten percent over the previous decade. A 2016 study by the American Council for an Energy Efficiency Economy (ACEEE) found that Pittsburgh ranks among the top ten cities by energy burden placed on their low-income residents. Meanwhile, a quarter of total emissions comes from residential buildings, 70 percent of which were built prior to 1960, well before national energy efficiency standards were established.


The newly adopted Climate Action Plan meets these challenges with a bold, comprehensive strategy for change. The sweeping vision under this plan, expected to last five years before renewal, lays out the necessary solutions to move towards a greener, cleaner Pittsburgh.