Vermont is not on track to meet its legally mandated climate emissions requirements for 2030, according to the latest annual progress report from the Energy Action Network, released Wednesday.
The network, a nonprofit that analyzes and tracks Vermont’s emissions, reasoned in its report that Vermont has not adopted strategies sure to create meaningful reductions. It’s a conclusion familiar to some lawmakers and state officials, who knew by the end of the most recent legislative session that Vermont had fallen off course.
Significant action is needed in Vermont’s transportation and thermal sectors, which together produce about 74% of the state’s emissions, according to the report.
In 2020, state lawmakers passed the Global Warming Solutions Act, which installed legally binding emissions reductions. It established the Vermont Climate Council, charged with constructing a plan to meet the emissions requirements. That plan was published last December.
If the state fails to meet the reduction requirements, people or entities can sue the state. In such a case, a judge could direct the state’s Agency of Natural Resources to implement climate mitigation strategies, which would be more likely to focus on regulations than the strategies devised by the climate council.
Two of the most impactful solutions proposed by the climate council — the clean heat standard and the regional Transportation Climate Initiative Program, or TCI-P — have fallen though, hindering opportunities for progress.
Vermont needs to look at adopting two types of policies that “have been proven by other states and countries to provide a high degree of confidence in reducing emissions” — emissions caps and performance standards — according to Jared Duval, executive director of the Energy Action Network and a member of the climate council.
Vermont has already adopted an emissions cap in the electricity sector, called the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, and a performance standard, called the Renewable Energy Standard, which together have reduced emissions coming from electricity, according to the Energy Action Network.
Some existing policies should naturally push Vermont toward emissions reductions, according to Energy Action Network’s report, but “without significant additional policies and programs, business as usual is not expected to get us anywhere near the requirements of the Global Warming Solutions Act, especially for 2030.”
Gov. Phil Scott vetoed the clean heat standard during the last legislative session, and lawmakers failed to override the bill by one vote. Through incentivizing and mandating changes in the state’s heating sector, the clean heat standard was projected to be responsible for a third of the state’s necessary emissions reductions, according to the Energy Action Network’s analysis.
TCI-P, a regional transportation initiative designed to limit tailpipe emissions, fell apart weeks before the climate council published Vermont’s first Climate Action Plan in late 2021, after the governors of Massachusetts and Connecticut pulled out, citing high gas prices. Transportation is responsible for more emissions than any other sector in Vermont, and the plan was expected to reduce emissions in participating states by 26%.
Even if lawmakers and state officials implemented the climate council’s most impactful proposals, the state could fail to meet its goals.
“We would need ALL of the pathways and measures, including but not limited to those in the transportation and thermal sectors, together at the scale and pace modeled to reach our [Global Warming Solutions Act] requirements. If we fall short on any one of them, other pathways and/or measures would need to do even more to make up the difference,” the Energy Action Network said in the report.
In climate council meetings, Chris Campany, a member of the council and the director of the Windham Regional Commission, often emphasized the importance of preparing Vermont for the impacts of climate change alongside reducing emissions.
The fact that Vermont is not likely to meet its 2030 emissions, Campany told VTDigger, reflects that Vermont has “the limited resources of a small population” and is “trying to change nearly a century and a quarter’s worth of our relationship to energy on a pretty fast time frame, somewhat independently of everybody else.” Still, it’s important for the state to juggle emissions reductions and climate change resilience at the same time, he said.
“We have to find the resources to do both,” he said. “We have to find the political will to actually act so that we make folks who are already in harm’s way more protected, more resilient, and then prevent future developments that put people and property at risk.”
Campany pointed to the worsening drought in the state, and the climate-change-related events that have occurred around the country and the world in recent weeks. Last year, one of the worst flooding events in Vermont since Tropical Storm Irene hit southern Vermont, he said, and this year, the area is dry.
Vermont’s Global Warming Solutions Act was designed to keep the state in line with the Paris Agreement, which aims to keep global temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees higher than pre-industrial levels.
The Energy Action Network’s report began with a sobering reminder from a recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change: Global leaders have a “brief and rapidly closing window to secure a livable future.”
Still, Campany said, the crisis begs pause and thoughtfulness.
“If we can just give ourselves the space to step back for a minute and then figure out, do we need to approach it in a different way?” he said.