ORONO — The news this past year has been filled with stories about major scientific assessments on climate change on the global and national scales. These reports highlight evidence of our changing climate, the escalating costs and the increasing urgency to respond with dramatic reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions and investments in adaptation.

Maine has been a leader in taking steps to address the effects of greenhouse gases on the climate. It needs to be a leader again with a climate action plan building on our past, but squarely aimed at the realities of our future.

In 1995, Maine was the first state to conduct a statewide greenhouse-gas inventory, and in 2004, Maine enacted a law to create a state climate action plan. As stated in the 2004 plan, the goals were to cut greenhouse-gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2010, 10 percent below those levels in 2020 and by a sufficient amount to avert the threat of global warming over the longer term, which could be up to 75 percent below 1990 levels.

This law reflected the 2000 New England governors and eastern Canadian premiers resolution calling for greenhouse-gas reductions and, in 2007, they set long-term goals of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions from 75 to 85 percent of 2001 levels by 2050. More recently, a 2015 resolution by the governors and premiers called for a progress marker of at least 35 to 45 percent below 1990 levels by 2030.

Maine met its 2010 climate action plan goals, and is on track to come close or exceed the 2020 goals. However, there is no plan for meeting future goals required to “eliminate any dangerous threat to the climate.” Or even come close.

Indeed, the recent United Nations report highlights the planetary urgency of aggressive strategies to slash greenhouse-gas emissions as the impacts of a changing climate are more severe and earlier than anticipated. The report says that human-caused carbon dioxide emissions will need to be net zero by around 2050 if we are to limit planetary warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Maine certainly is experiencing changes with punishing downpours, flooding, sea-level rise, warming Gulf of Maine waters, heat, drought, ticks and disease and a host of other challenges.

In 2009, the University of Maine Climate Change Institute led a group of scientists to evaluate evidence for climate change in Maine, and the effects it was having and was likely to have for Maine people. That report, “Maine’s Climate Future,” spurred the 124th Legislature to direct the Maine Department of Environmental Protection to lead a one-year preliminary stakeholder climate adaptation process.

The follow-up report, “People and Nature Adapting to a Changing Climate: Charting Maine’s Course,” was delivered to the Natural Resources Committee in 2010. The 126th Legislature resolved to continue this work, but shortly after 2010, those initiatives and coordinated state leadership on climate change planning for Maine ceased.

Maine’s existing strategies for greenhouse-gas mitigation were formulated in 2004, with no plan for achieving more ambitious targets beyond 2020 that appear increasingly urgent. Maine’s existing plan for adaptation was conceived in 2010 through a robust, stakeholder-engaged process. However, neither the mitigation nor adaptation plans reflect current knowledge of our changing climate, associated risks, and opportunities. The planet – and Maine – are changing faster than we expected, and business as usual is not an option.

Maine deserves a cutting-edge, updated, unified, evidence-informed, cost-effective climate action plan. Unified in that it encompasses both a strategy to mitigate greenhouse-gas emissions, as well as identifying high-priority, cost-effective adaptation measures. Cutting edge in that it drives Maine forward toward the technologies of the future, identifying priorities across all sectors of Maine’s economy.

We need a flexible blueprint that grows our economy while driving greenhouse-gas emissions down, reducing the accumulating costs of climate change. We need a plan that leaves our children and grandchildren with a world that offers them the opportunities for a quality of life that is better, not worse, than our own.

 


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