Vermont environmental, municipal and state officials were at the ECHO Center for Lake Champlain this week to announce the launch of a new coalition to help bridge the environmental chasm caused when President Trump withdrew the U.S. from the Paris Climate Accord.
ECHO is an aquarium and science center on the Burlington shore of Lake Champlain. Officials from across Vermont stood on its lakeside deck to announce the formation of the Vermont Climate Pledge Coalition. Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger said the president’s action has caused leaders across the country to reexamine their commitment to the environment. He added that across the country mayors and governors are leading new efforts to mitigate the president’s decision and continue the work toward the goals of the Paris agreement. “I am excited to be here with you to announce the Vermont Climate Pledge Coalition. It will include cities, towns, businesses, institutions of higher learning, non-profits and utilities. Burlington and this group are committed to the goals of Paris which is to reduce climate emissions by 26 to 28 percent from 2005 levels by 2025. And we are also committed to all of the existing state goals.”
Governor Phil Scott said the state will continue to work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions but cannot reach aggressive goals without action from all Vermonters. “The challenge and opportunity for action on climate change in our country now rests with the states. I will be issuing an executive order to create the Vermont Climate Change Commission. It will be tasked with developing a specific, responsible and realistic greenhouse gas reduction action plan that builds on the work of the Vermont 2016 comprehensive energy plan.”
The Vermont Law School has been working to address its own carbon footprint and plans to be a part of the new coalition, according to Vice Dean for Faculty David Mears. “I’m cautiously optimistic that it will result in a conversation and a dialog that will push us all forward at a state level to do bigger and greater things in terms of addressing the impacts of climate change and to reduce the cause, which is carbon emissions.”
Mears, who served as Vermont’s Environmental Conservation Commissioner in Governor Peter Shumlin’s administration, adds the new coalition will approach the problem from two levels. “The level of action this kind of coalition is most designed to address is essentially through a public awareness and transparency and commitment to get individual organizations to pledge publically and then to have an accountability system so they have to follow through. So it drives a broader coalition of action. But I have a deeper hope for it. We do need stronger action at the state government level and at the local government level and those elected and appointed leaders need pressure.”
The Burlington Electric Department sources 100 percent of its energy from renewables and it is now pursuing a net zero goal. General Manager Neale Lunderville says the department has been in the forefront of energy innovation for decades. “Our role in the coalition has three parts. The first part is make sure we continue to keep Burlington as sustainable as possible for the longest period of time. Secondly we need to continue to push the envelope on energy innovation. And the third part is we want to work with other communities and other businesses and institutions to educate them on the things that we learned so we can all beat back climate change.”
While the coalition was being announced, members of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group stood in the adjacent park. Executive Director Paul Burns wants the coalition and the governor in particular to be more aggressive in taking action on the climate goals. “I believe that we’re making a difference already and we have to go further. He’s willing to move forward on those things that are easier. Now that’s not surprising. Most politicians are. But now is the time where we need to see his actions match his rhetoric and we’re going to keep pushing until we see that.”
The new coalition will hold a summit this fall to collect pledges made by stakeholders and establish a baseline plan of action.