Deb Markowitz, Representing Vermont At U.N. Climate Conference, Says States Must Lead

Nov 18, 2016

As world leaders wrap up the annual United Nations climate change conference this week in Marrakech, Morocco, many there are worried about President-elect Donald Trump's plan to pull the U.S. out of a major climate change agreement.

Vermont's Secretary of the Agency of National Resources, Deb Markowitz, spoke with VPR from the summit about the outlook for international climate agreements.

VPR: This is a huge summit, with delegates from all over the world. Give us just a brief sketch of what world leaders are hoping to achieve this time around.

Markowitz: “The focus is really on implementation issues. There's a lot of technical issues, details that have to be worked out. For example, there's supposed to be some transparency so we can hold countries accountable for the promised reduction.

"So what do those mechanisms look like? The Paris framework, while it holds developing nations to standards similar to the developed nations, it is to provide for flexibility. What are those flexibility mechanisms? How are they really going to work? They shouldn't be a free pass but they need to recognize that different constraints depending on where you are in the world.

“The financing piece — you know, how to structure the financing, both in terms of the payment of the obligations from the developed countries, as well as how it will be used for developing nations ... and so on. So they're contemplating some carbon trading — how do you put a mechanism in place that prevents double counting? So it's very technical."

The president-elect has indicated several times that he's skeptical about whether climate change is real. To be clear, there is an overwhelming consensus among scientists — 97 percent of them, according to NASA — that it is real, and that it is caused by humans. Trump is threatening to cancel billions of dollars in payments to U.N. climate change programs. What are people saying at the summit about that, and do you have any sense of what that could mean for Vermont?

“The U.S. election occurred right smack in the middle of this conference, and it really came as a shock to the world. And so I would suggest that a lot of what I'm doing this weekend, and my colleagues from Washington [State] and California who are here with me, is allay fears.

"While there are lots of federal environmental laws they're implemented, by large, by the state. And we do that by adopting our own laws. So we've got our own clean air laws. We've got our own climate goals. Every state in the country does. And there's been tremendous state leadership and that's really not going to change. It may be surprising to some listeners that 36 states have climate action plans.”

Certainly, Vermont is a state that's done a lot in terms of trying to reduce carbon emissions, but, practically speaking, President-elect Trump is talking about canceling billions of dollars in payments to the United Nations. Do you have a sense of what it would mean for Vermont, for the U.S. if he follows through with that?

“Well, I think it will be more important than ever before for Vermont to show leadership in this area. There are a lot of questions about what happens if we stop participating in the framework convention and, you know, what that will mean. Legally, there's technicalities that make it difficult to immediately leave the convention. You know, in Vermont, we've also had a change in political leadership, but knowing the incoming governor, Phil Scott, I'm confident that that Vermont will continue in our leadership role.”