When Maine Gov. Janet Mills convened the Maine Climate Council in September 2019, she announced an executive order to make Maine’s economy carbon neutral by 2045.
The council’s four-year plan for climate action, released Dec. 1, is titled “Maine Won’t Wait” for a very good reason, says Ivan Fernandez, University of Maine Distinguished Maine Professor in the School of Forest Resources, the Climate Change Institute, and the School of Food and Agriculture.
The state, and the world, can’t wait.
“The indicators of climate change are accelerating and so, too, must our response,” he says.
Fernandez referenced 2020’s increasingly common intense winds, the Gulf of Maine’s record-warm temperatures, megafires that have scorched 8 million U.S. acres, punishing drought, 30-plus tropical storms and hurricanes, and mounting devastation due to sea level rise.
The Maine Climate Action Plan lays a pathway for what needs to be done, he says.
Fernandez and other experts from UMaine, the University of Maine at Machias, the University of Maine School of Law, the University of Southern Maine and the University of Maine at Farmington helped inform and craft the plan with government officials, scientists, business and industry leaders, and citizens.
The path includes investing in renewable energy, harnessing natural climate solutions to store carbon, and building resilience in farms, forests and fisheries to survive and thrive in the 21st century.
“We have seen time and again that science-informed policy is cost-effective for American society,” says Fernandez, who also co-chairs the council’s Scientific and Technical Subcommittee and serves on the Natural and Working Lands Working Group.
It’s important that we “invest in the future rather than in the past. This is guidance to do that,” says Fernandez, who also serves on the governor’s newly established Maine Forest Carbon Task Force with UMaine School of Forest Resources professor Adam Daigneault.
Sean Birkel, the Maine state climatologist and a research assistant professor with UMaine’s Climate Change Institute and School of Earth and Climate Sciences, served with Fernandez on the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee. He says that by implementing climate mitigation, adaptation and resiliency strategies now, we can help minimize future climate impacts, while also protecting Maine’s economy and natural environment.
Birkel, who developed the Climate Reanalyzer, says there’s clear evidence of climate change in Maine during the past century, especially the past 20 years. “The changing climate affects all of Maine’s economic sectors, from tourism, to agriculture and forestry, to trade.”
Maine Sea Grant director Gayle Zydlewski says the council’s work is critical for the sustainability and resilience of the state’s coastal communities and ecosystems. Climate-related changes are already threatening valuable wild and farmed fisheries, along with the marine heritage and cultural identity of coastal communities.
“Based on our work with coastal communities, the seafood industry, and statewide coastal energy and infrastructure planning initiatives, we understand that the cost of not advancing these efforts will far outstrip the cost of making what changes we can make today to help communities and industry mitigate and adapt to the challenges of climate change,” she says.
A thoughtful approach to change is key, says Jonathan Rubin, director of UMaine’s Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center who serves on the Transportation Working Group and Scientific and Technical Subcommittee.
It’s important to balance smart regulations that both reduce damage and position Maine’s businesses to be in sync with other businesses across the country and world, says Rubin, a nationally recognized expert on climate change economics, including transportation energy.
If the council’s recommendations are implemented, Fernandez envisions a state with more electric vehicles, offshore wind technologies, energy-efficient and climate-friendly buildings, a clean-energy economy, regenerative agricultural practices, communities with prioritized investments for climate resilience, improved tracking of vector-borne diseases, better delivery of medical treatment, and substantial gains with regard to equity.
Experts from the University of Maine System serving on council subcommittees/working groups include:
Brian Beal, University of Maine at Machias; Ivan Fernandez (co-chair), Sean Birkel, Adam Daigneault, Joe Kelley, Rick Kersbergen, Glen Koehler, Bradfield Lyon, Jonathan Rubin, Robert Steneck, Rick Wahle and Aaron Weiskittel, UMaine, Scientific and Technical Subcommittee
Abigayle Hargreaves, Jeff Thaler (and University of Maine School of Law), and Jake Ward, UMaine, Energy Working Group
Jonathan Rubin, UMaine, Transportation Working Group
Heather Leslie (co-chair), Kathleen Bell, Dave Townsend, Hattie Train and Jessica Reilly-Moman, UMaine; and Curtis Bohlen, University of Southern Maine, Coastal and Marine Working Group
Hannah Carter and Ivan Fernandez, UMaine, Natural and Working Lands Working Group
Andrew Barton, University of Maine at Farmington; Tora Johnson, University of Maine at Machias; and Esperanza Stancioff, UMaine, Community Resilience Planning, Public Health, and Emergency Management Working Group
Dan Dixon and Steve Shaler, UMaine, Buildings, Infrastructure, and Housing Working Group
Mitchell Center helps assess equity of climate strategies
Sustainability experts from the University of Maine advise the Maine Climate Council on how efforts to combat climate change could support historically underrepresented populations in the state.
The Senator George J. Mitchell Center for Sustainability Solutions was tapped to assist the council with its efforts to improve equity outcomes of the state Climate Action Plan.
The center provided expertise to the Governor’s Office of Policy Innovation and the Future to help determine how the Climate Council’s strategies for reducing carbon emissions and adapting to climate change can benefit underserved residents and communities.
The Mitchell Center’s work also contributed to the establishment of the Climate Council’s Equity Subcommittee, which is helping to inform the implementation of Maine’s four-year Climate Action Plan.
Climate change affects the various populations in Maine in different and unequal ways, says Linda Silka, a Mitchell Center senior fellow. To help all Mainers, officials can focus on reducing the disproportionate effects of climate change on lower income and rural populations, older adults, tribal communities, persons of color and other underrepresented groups.
“Our responsibility is to look at equity issues in a clear, systematic and well-informed way,” Silka says. “It’s a wonderful way to say, ‘We’re not the kind of state that’s good for some people. We want it to be good for everyone.’”
Silka; Mitchell Center director David Hart; Sara Kelemen, a graduate student of plant, soil, and environmental science; and other partners evaluated climate action proposals from the council’s working groups for their ability to achieve equity and foster diversity and inclusion. Recommendations will include ways to improve how any particular strategy can support the various underserved populations in Maine.
As state officials solicit citizen feedback on climate action strategies, the Mitchell Center also advised on how to connect with underrepresented communities across the state, including groups that may be unaware of the Climate Council’s work, residents without internet access, and others.