“Back with a seat at the table”: UVM professors weigh in on U.S. rejoining Paris Agreement

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President Joe Biden signed an executive order Wednesday to rejoin the Paris Agreement, one of seventeen executive orders made just hours after taking oath. In thirty days, the U.S. will be formally readmitted. 

We are back with a seat at the table,” said University of Vermont’s Amy Seidl, associate director of the environmental program. “I think that that’s very important to the U.S.’s role in international decision making and international governance.” 

Seidl defines the agreement as an opportunity, as a global community, to address the challenges of climate change. Almost every country is a part of the agreement, which isn’t legally binding. Countries come together every five years to report their goals, present research, provide financial support to developing nations, and negotiate next steps.

“Withdrawing itself didn’t have any real impact because it’s an international agreement, it doesn’t actually require anyone to do anything,” said UVM’s Geo-political professor Robert Bartlett.

He says the nation’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement under Trump’s leadership was more of a symbolic gesture. Meaning, while it wasn’t an unprecedented action, it showed the nation that climate change wasn’t a political priority.

“It’s become unfortunately politicized where a very high proportion of republicans have become persuaded that climate change is imaginary,” said Bartlett.

Bartlett and Seidl both agree that is far from the truth. In fact, Seidle explains the U.S. leads the world in carbon emissions right under China. But from a legacy perspective, she says, America is the world’s top emitter.

“We have all kinds of treaties and trade agreements and relationships with countries all around the world, and if they’re doing their part and we’re not around a global phenomenon, that’s just not good citizenship,” said Seidl.

But now, the nation is making a come back. Professor Bartlett points out, much of the country’s emission reduction stems from the state and local levels. 

“Sponsored and created organizations like Efficiency Vermont have done a great job in proving energy efficiency in buildings in Vermont, particularly residential housing. Where Vermont has not done very well, at all, is with transportation,” said Bartlett.

Seidl says even her students are motivated to address climate change on campus.  

“We have a wonderful sustainability fund at UVM, so they can put in their own proposals about how to tackle climate change on campus. And one of those ways is to off-set the way we travel,” said Seidl.

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