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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.”

Reflecting 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 north.

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 by 2050.

“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.


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