Commentary: Vermont has done much, can do more to stem climate change

By Deb Markowitz

When Vermonters see a problem, we work to fix it. That is why earlier this year Vermont signed onto two historic climate agreements that will strengthen our state’s resolve to combat carbon pollution and transition to a new clean energy economy.

Deb Markowitz

Deb Markowitz

In April, Gov. Peter Shumlin joined leaders from around the world to sign California’s bold Under Two Memorandum of Understanding.  This agreement aligns our goals to reduce carbon pollution to the level of seriousness of the climate crisis.  Scientists broadly agree that we must not increase global temperature more than two degrees centigrade to avoid devastating climate impacts for our communities and our economies.  Under this MOU, we are committing to the level of emissions reductions needed across the globe to do just that.

In June, Vermont again joined an international effort to accelerate the response to climate change.  The first-ever Pan-American Climate Change Agreement issued a united call from mayors, governors and provincial leaders from Brazil to Canada to fight carbon pollution.  The agreement points to specific steps we need to take, such as supporting putting a price on carbon and public reporting of progress toward lowering emissions.

These agreements can seem far removed from our day-to-day lives, and yet they are so important.  They set a high bar for upcoming negotiations this December, when world leaders will gather in Paris for the next United Nations Conference of the Parties, and attempt to reach consensus on new global greenhouse gas reduction goals.

These agreements also answer questions about Vermont’s role.  We are a small state – our emissions are a drop in the bucket compared to others– but we are going to lead the transformation to a new energy economy precisely because of that.   Our size means we can get things done here, and we can show other states and nations what’s possible.

Vermont’s utilities like Green Mountain Power, Washington Electric Cooperative, Burlington Electric and others are at the cutting edge of a snowballing energy transformation.  They are working with their customers to help them make investments that save money, reduce energy use and rely more on home-grown energy from the sun and wind and even the manure from Vermont farms.

They are also helping to install electric charging infrastructure in downtowns, apartment buildings, homes and workplaces so that Vermonters can choose to drive electric cars with absolute confidence.  Our utilities are making sure that we will be ready a year from now, when 200 mile range electric vehicles enter the national auto market.

Vermonters across the state are also at the forefront of this energy revolution. Whether we’re putting solar on our rooftops, participating in community solar projects to power our homes and businesses, or installing efficient electric heat pumps and state-of the-art wood pellet stoves to heat our homes, Vermonters are leading in greening our energy economy.

The change is remarkable.  We have reduced Vermont’s greenhouse gas emissions back to the level of 1990, and our energy transformation is creating new jobs every month.  Vermont had more solar jobs per capita than any state in the nation in 2013.  We should pat ourselves on the back for this impressive progress.

At the same time, we must recognize that we have a great deal more work to do.  To meet our new climate goals we still need to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions 75 percent to 85 percent from their current levels.

The United Nation’s weather agency just announced that 2014 was the hottest year on record.  This may be hard to imagine, given the arctic temperatures we lived through last February. But patterns in the air currents that caused these bone chilling temperatures in New England are thought by many climate scientists to be closely linked to record warming, as are the record rains we experienced this June. That is why it is so important that we join with states across our region and nations around the world to do our part to make the world safe and prosperous for our children and grandchildren.

Deb Markowitz is Secretary of the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources.

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