As part of Vermont’s Global Warming Solutions Act in 2020, the state legislature created a Climate Council charged with analyzing the risks posed by climate change and developing a plan to build resilience to prepare the State’s communities, infrastructure, and economy to adapt to the current and anticipated effects of climate change. Now that the new Council is up and running, and with the Federal government injecting new funding into the mix, a natural question for Vermonters is: what is the state’s baseline with respect to current climate change and clean energy projects and programs?
A new report lays the groundwork for understanding what topics and challenges are being prioritized in the push to move Vermont toward a clean energy economy, limit carbon pollution, and prepare for the impacts of climate change that are unavoidable. Creating a view of activity underway is essential to any state government that is trying to develop a cohesive and comprehensive plan for moving to a clean energy economy and for addressing climate change. As state governments move forward on the opportunities and challenges in Vermont, it is imperative that they understand how they are spreading their resources. And, to make sure major opportunities and challenges are not being missed altogether.
During the summer of 2020, with support from the University of New Hampshire Sustainability Institute, the authors of the study compiled an inventory of Vermont’s publicly funded programs. The resulting report, The Cost of Climate Change in Vermont: Part One – Spending Inventory establishes the foundation for a full analysis that would organize and document the spending that underpins the state’s projects and programs. The arenas addressed include energy, transportation, food systems, land use and ecosystems, water management, public health, and economic vitality. The challenges and risks of climate change were categorized into three broad categories: reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, addressing climate risks (e.g., storms and flooding, rising temperature), and attention to the disproportionate risk to vulnerable communities.
The study found that most of Vermont’s programs address challenges pertaining to energy and transportation. Issues that have been more moderately addressed are in the arenas of food systems and land use. Findings from the report also indicate there is a clear need for increased attention to aspects of public health, water management, and the vulnerability of industries that will see a drastic impact by climate change. The report also points out the need to carefully analyze the level of effort and funding required to embrace the opportunities created by the move to a new energy economy, while also planning for climate change impacts that are no longer avoidable. Despite multiple attempts in Vermont to implement a comprehensive approach to these questions, the actions underway in state government remain an ad hoc patchwork of independent activities.
“This report has been an extremely helpful body of information as we build our latest Vermont Climate Assessment,” said Gillian Galford, a UVM climate scientist leading the Vermont assessment project. “We’re not aware of a similar study in any other state, and we expect to see this idea replicated across the country.”
Given available resources and time, the team did not look at the spending supporting the more than 110 Vermont state programs identified in the report. A comprehensive view of existing spending is clearly needed, and would provide pivotal information to all the stakeholders – including the Climate Council, the Administration, policy makers, NGOs, and advocacy groups. “Understanding how we are maximizing our current expenditures to make our communities more energy independent and resilient in a warming world is a fundamental starting point. The analysis in this report will help Vermont identify what we can do better with existing revenues and, importantly, what else we must do — and why,” said Johanna Miller, Energy & Climate Program Director at the Vermont Natural Resources Council. “And, with the new Global Warming Solutions Act requiring much greater, much needed pollution reduction, adaptation and resilience-creating progress, this report highlights where we are falling short and the significant transformation – and investments – required to help all Vermonters thrive in a rapidly changing world.”
Copies of the report can be downloaded at https://www.solavida.org/state-climate-spending-analysis/.
Dan Quinlan is the founder of the Vermont-based non-profit SolaVida which developed the report.