This week the Trump administration made good on its promise. It formally notified the United Nations that it plans to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement on climate change, beginning a yearlong countdown to our exit. This will leave the United States alone as the only nation in the world not supporting the collective action needed to address an exponentially growing crisis.
With Trump turning his back on the nearly 200 other countries that have promised to cut greenhouse gas emissions across the globe, state leadership is more important than ever to fill the void of apathy and inaction created by the White House.
In June 2017, after Trump first announced that he planned to withdraw from the agreement, Vermont Gov. Phil Scott reiterated his administration’s commitment to meeting the state’s emissions reduction and renewable energy goals. Those goals call for greenhouse gas emissions to be reduced 40% below 1990 levels and for 90% of energy used in Vermont to come from renewable sources by 2050.
Unfortunately, in the two years since committing Vermont to action, Scott’s administration has done little to fulfill his promise. And the Vermont Legislature has done little to hold the governor accountable for his inaction.
The governor did appoint a Vermont Climate Action Commission to chart a course for meeting the state’s goals. That commission issued a report with more than 50 recommendations, which included continuing to support several existing policies and programs. However, the governor either rejected or ignored every significant, new policy recommendation that would lead to a meaningful reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.
Consequently, Vermont is not only failing to meet its goals; we are going backwards, and emissions have actually increased in recent years.
Likewise, the Vermont legislature has not made bold climate action a priority. Last year, legislation was passed that increased funding for weatherization using one-time funding. A program to help low-income Vermonters purchase electric and hybrid vehicles was also created with one-time funding from the state’s lawsuit with Volkswagen over deceptive diesel vehicle emissions.
It’s time for Vermont to stop making hollow promises and start holding ourselves accountable for the long run. A Global Warming Solutions Act for the state is a good place to start. This legislation would turn our long-standing climate action goals into binding requirements, as many other northeastern states have done. It would also send a strong signal to the public and private sector, that Vermont is serious about climate action, catalyzing job creation and entrepreneurial innovation in green energy.
Vermont’s Global Warming Solutions Act would help us do our part to achieve the 2025 goals of the Paris Agreement that the governor endorsed, and that the Vermont House went on record supporting in a formal resolution. It would also push Vermont toward a target of net-zero climate pollution by 2050 and a reduction in climate pollution of at least 75% from 1990 levels by 2050.
A Global Warming Solutions Act would ensure accountability: something that’s elusive — if not unattainable — at the national level. If enacted, this legislation would be a much-needed foundation for concrete solutions that will improve public health, help to mitigate the growing economic cost of climate inaction, and help protect our quality of life – before it’s too late.
This is the moment to ensure action. We must all be accountable. There are signs of promise. The Vermont Legislature’s Climate Solutions Caucus is hosting forums statewide (find them at vnrc.org) to outline their agenda — including their support for this important, foundational policy.
But it will be hard work — and public and political support will be required.
Vermont’s legislature will be back in session in January 2020, and enacting the Global Warming Solutions Act needs to be a priority. Our neighboring states have put one in place and they are making progress, helping to do their part for the planet.
It’s time Vermont did, too.
Brian Shupe is the executive director of the Vermont Natural Resources Council. Weekly Planet is a regular feature in Perspective offering points of view by the environmental community.