If nations won't lead, we will

Denise Puca
Reading time: 4 minutes
21 September 2016

State and regional governments have a long track record of showing national governments how to solve tough social problems. Today we’re doing it again on the issue of climate change.

Vermont is doing a lot to tackle climate change, an issue that fundamentally threatens our economy and livelihood. We have worked hard to dramatically increase the use of renewable energy. Electricity from solar projects has increased by 10 times, and from wind energy 20 times in the past five years. Jobs in the clean energy sector have grown by more than 35%. Since 2008, we’ve seen a more than tenfold increase in electric vehicles on our roads. A new renewable energy portfolio standard is the latest major step, and with this new policy, Vermont’s utilities will become full partners in growing renewable energy. By 2032, 75% of the energy sold to utility customers will need to be from renewable sources.

But even if we succeed, we will still fail unless other governments also take action. That is the challenge with climate change. It affects us all, and it can’t be solved by Vermont — or anyone — acting alone. It requires cooperation. Some people have used this fact as a reason to do nothing at all. “There’s no way it can be done,” they say. But once again, we are proving them wrong.

Last year, Vermont joined a partnership begun by California and one of the largest states in Germany, Baden Württemberg, to work together on climate change. We wanted to set a high standard for local government action, committing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in our jurisdictions by at least 80%, or to limit them to 2 tons per capita, by 2050. We committed to work together to meet our common goals, and invited other governments around the world to join us.

The response has been overwhelming. In just over a year’s time, more than 135 governments from over 30 countries, including China, India, South Africa and Brazil, have joined the “Under 2 Coalition,” setting ambitious climate goals and agreeing to work with their peers around the world. Together, we are a massive global force, representing more than 740 million people and $20 trillion in GDP, equivalent to more than a quarter of the global economy.

What we share is an understanding that dealing with climate change is essential for the prosperity of our economies, the sustainability of our societies and the well-being of our citizens; that we can’t deal with it alone; and that there are tangible benefits to cooperation. We are learning from one another about the best ways to plan for long-term emissions reductions, rigorously measure our progress and find policy solutions that get results.

We’ve learned a lot in Vermont about what works and what doesn’t, which we are sharing with others. But we don’t know everything, and already we’re learning from other governments in the coalition. When hundreds of governments from every continent and every socioeconomic situation come together with one common goal, you cannot say that international cooperation on climate change can’t work. It is working.

In Paris last year, national governments from around the world achieved a great milestone by agreeing to limit global average temperature rise to well under 2 degrees Celsius, and by putting a process in place to make sure that each nation does its part — further demonstrating that cooperation can succeed. However, the dicult task of bringing global emissions down close to zero by the second half of this century still lies ahead. It’s going to take bold action from all levels of government, in all countries.

And the truth is, we’re just getting started.

As we have in the past, state and regional governments will lead the way. We’ll prove that strong climate laws and strong economic growth go hand in hand. We’ll prove that international cooperation on climate change is not just possible, but essential. And we’ll set an example that’s so compelling, our national counterparts will have to follow.

By Peter Shumlin, Governor of Vermont. This post first appeared on the special edition of USAToday on Monday 19 September for Climate Week NYC.

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