Vermont’s Climate Challenge: Rising to the Occasion

By Heather Knoll

Image Courtesy of the Energy Action Network. Sources: Fossil fuel spending: Vermont Department of Taxes, 2023; VGS, 2023. Dollar recirculation share: EAN Senior Fellow for Economic Analysis, Ken Jones, 2023. Note: This graph includes spending on thermal and transportation fuels only.

Vermont faces a critical juncture in our efforts to combat climate change. The Energy Action Network, a diverse group of non-profits, businesses, public agencies, and other organizations working towards a sustainable future for Vermonters, recently released their annual report and it revealed a sobering reality.  We are falling significantly behind in our efforts to meet climate goals set for the state. However, amid the challenges, there is hope and a growing momentum to steer towards a more sustainable and promising future.

One of the most pressing concerns Vermont faces is its per capita greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, which rank second highest in New England and third highest in the Northeast. Vermont’s per capita climate pollution surpasses that of some countries, including major emitters like China and India. This means that individuals in our state produce more GHG emissions than an individual in China or India. To align with the Paris Climate Accord targets, we need to substantially elevate our efforts.

The Global Warming Solutions Act of 2020 established ambitious GHG emission reduction goals for Vermont with the goal of achieving net zero GHG emissions by 2050. However, current data indicates that we are falling short of these targets. This shortfall highlights the urgent need for additional policy measures and substantial infrastructure investments in the near future.

The culprits contributing significantly to the state’s climate pollution are the thermal sector, which consists of Residential, Commercial, and Industrial fuel use, and the transportation sector. EAN’s report shows that a staggering 94% of the energy used for transportation and 72% of the energy used in the thermal sector are derived from fossil fuels. Despite this alarming reality, there is hope on the horizon. Increased adoption of electric vehicles and the implementation of the Clean Heat Standard hold the potential to make a significant dent in emissions within these sectors.

The economic impact of fossil fuels also cannot be overlooked. Vermont expends a substantial portion of its economic resources on importing fossil fuels, creating a burden, especially for low-income Vermonters. Our low-income community members spend a higher percentage of their income on both transportation costs and heating fuel compared to higher-income Vermonters. EAN reports that these high energy burdens increase the risk of transitioning into poverty or of experiencing long-term poverty by 150-200%. Shifting towards increased use of electricity for transportation and heating can potentially stimulate our state’s economy. In addition to reduced GHG emissions, we’ll be retaining spending and jobs within Vermont which will lead to a more sustainable and economically beneficial future for all.

Over the past two decades, we have made commendable strides in energy efficiency through significant infrastructure investments and weatherization programs. These investments have resulted in substantial returns in terms of energy savings and reduced GHG emissions. The electrification of transportation and heating systems will be vital in the coming years and offers a two-fold benefit: it reduces pollution while also significantly decreasing overall energy consumption.

While the Energy Action Network’s report paints a concerning picture, it is important to remember that we possess the potential to embrace change and transition towards a sustainable, low-emission future. With strategic policy decisions, targeted investments, and a collective commitment to reducing GHG emissions, we can lead the way in climate action.

Vermont’s climate challenge is immense, but our determination can drive the state towards a sustainable and greener future. The time to act is now, and by working together, we can make a difference that resonates far beyond our borders.


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