Vermont Law Top 10 Environmental Watch List for 2020

2020 Director’s Message

As we head into 2020, the upcoming presidential election in the United States looms large. The Top 10 Environmental Watch List is not about politics on its face, but as any 1L taking Constitutional Law can tell you, law and politics are fruit of the same tree. One need only look to the focus on judicial appointments in the 2016 election and years since, or the feverish tracking of Justice Ginsburg’s health for proof of that.

But Earth is indifferent to political shifts or election timelines, and climate change is teetering at its catastrophic tipping point. The rescheduled COP25 (the 25th Conference of the Parties to the United National Convention on Climate Change) in Madrid, Spain, was kicked off early this month with remarks from the United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres, stating that this year’s summit marks the “point of no return” in the fight against climate change. The Secretary General’s warning is not hyperbole: this is the last COP assembly before 2020, when the 2015 Paris agreement takes effect, and without robust  commitments coming out of this COP, experts anticipate that we will fall behind on the Paris Agreement right out of the gate.  COP25, originally scheduled for November in Santiago, Chile, was cancelled due to social unrest and resulting safety concerns, perhaps a disturbing parallel for society’s inability to unite and  address the threat of climate change before it’s too late.

2020 will prove a test in more ways than one. Environmentalists, long viewed by candidates as a fringe demographic that had no measurable impact on election outcomes, have found a place at the table with climate change becoming a more prominent issue in candidate’s platforms and primary debate topics. The question now is whether environmentalists truly understand the context they are in. The last election put a spotlight on a divided country, with deep divides between inland and coastal communities, urban and rural, rich and poor, communities of color and white communities.

The ten issues in this year’s Watchlist are pressure points. They are the canaries in the coal mine to watch as symptoms of the greater challenge. Can environmentalists seize the opportunity to find climate and environmental solutions that unite a divided nation and a divided world? 2020 will prove a year to remember, we hope because of bravery and creativity in solving environmental solutions rather than the year we crossed the threshold into Guterres’ “point of no return.”