July 01, 2014
Vermont Produces First State Level Climate Assessment in US
by Robert Kropp
The Vermont Climate Assessment partners with the recently published National Climate Assessment of
the US Global Change Research to provide region-specific data on the impacts of climate change.
Two recently published reports on the effects of climate change in the US—the Third National Climate Assessment and Risky Business: The Economic Risks of Climate Change in the United
States—both focus on how those effects will vary from region to region across the country.
“The United States faces an array of risks from climate change that are as diverse as we are as
a country,” said Kate Gordon, Executive Director of the Risky Business Project. “By looking at how
climate affects specific regions and sectors, rather than at national averages that mask local
conditions, our research found that the degree to which any single business may be harmed by a
changing climate will depend largely on where that business is located.”
the need for region-specific data, scientists at the University of Vermont have partnered with the
National Climate Assessment to provide the nation's first assessment of climate change impacts at
the state level. The Vermont Climate
Assessment, the authors state, provides “detailed analysis of economic and other impacts on
specific regions of the state and sectors of the Vermont economy that may be challenged or aided by
future climate change.”
“The evidence of changing climate is clear for Vermont,” the
report states. Significant increases in the state's average temperatures and precipitation have
been noted for decades, much of which has occurred since 1998. Vermont's average temperature has
increased by 1.3°F since 1960, and average annual precipitation has increased by 5.9 inches during
that time. Furthermore, the report projects, these trends will continue: even under a low emissions
scenario, the state's temperatures are expected to rise by another 3° F by 2050, and precipitation
will increase as well.
One of the most striking of present-day climate change impacts has
been a marked increase in extreme weather events, and in this regard Vermont has not been spared.
In 2011, Hurricane Irene destroyed much of Vermont's infrastructure, the effects of which have been
compounded by the state's rural character. The combination of weather extremes and blocking of the
jet stream due to melting Arctic ice is likely to increase the frequency of extreme weather.
It is unlikely that Vermont will experience some of the most devastating effects of climate
change. The combination of extremely high temperatures and drought in the western regions of the
US, and the effects of sea level rise on coastal areas, may well make some regions of the country
nearly uninhabitable. But the impacts in Vermont will be profound nonetheless. Agriculture and
tourism are major factors in the state's economy, and both are undergoing change already. For
example, maple syrup may count for a relatively small portion of the state's economy, but the sugar
maple has become a beloved symbol. But the report projects that before long the state's forests
will have changed completely, and the sugar maple will have pulled up its roots and moved further
And while Vermont's winter tourism may benefit in the short term from increased
precipitation during the winter months, within a couple of decades rising temperatures will cause
that precipitation to fall as rain instead of snow.
The report notes that Vermont, a
progressive state in many respects, has enacted legislation intended to mitigate and adapt to the
effects of climate change. The state has established a goal of a 50% reduction in greenhouse gas
(GHG) emissions by 2028, and it intends to receive 90% of its energy needs from renewable sources
“While Vermont does not have a remotely significant effect on global greenhouse
emissions, it is in a position to demonstrate the effectiveness of various systemic changes in
reducing overall greenhouse gas emissions,” the report states. And therein lies the problem: while
the effects of climate change will be felt at the local level, acting in a forceful manner to
reduce those effects requires a global consensus. Decades after climate change was identified as a
critical threat, we have yet to see concerted international action to reach that consensus.