The Climate Action Plan Task Force administered a community survey in summer 2023. Courtesy image

KENNEBUNK — From catastrophic flooding in Vermont to the record-setting heat wave in Phoenix, extreme weather events this past summer were a bleak reminder of the need for American cities and towns to become more resilient in the face of climate change.

Thanks to a task force created last year, Kennebunk is taking steps in that direction. The town is set to join the ranks of a growing number of American municipalities with a Climate Action Plan — a roadmap for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and increasing the town’s resiliency in the fact of the climate emergency.

Alison Malmqvist, Joshua Tabor and Yvette Webster, three members of Kennebunk’s Climate Action Plan Task Force, gave a presentation at the Sept. 26 select board meeting, updating the community on the body’s progress over the last year.

The task force was born out of a community workshop held in spring 2022 to discuss Kennebunk’s climate goals and actions. Attendees of the workshop identified the need for a Climate Action Plan, prompting the town to join a program sponsored by Gov. Janet Mills’ Office of Police and Innovation for the Future and then secure a Community Action Grant for the development of a Climate Action Plan. The task force also relies on advice and expertise from the Southern Maine Planning and Development Commission.

The task force has 12 members total, four of whom are members of the community — including Malmqvist, Tabor and Webster. It also includes the town’s director of community development, director of public services and elected members of town government.

Malmqvist, a Kennebunk resident who works in public global health, presented on the basics of the task force and Climate Action Plan. The task force looks at data, solicits community input, and surveys climate mitigation work happening in other places to inform the plan, which will provide recommendations and goals to make Kennebunk more climate change ready and reduce the town’s carbon footprint. The document will also provide a framework for implementing these goals and outline how the town can track their progress, Malmqvist said.


Malmqvist emphasized that the creation of the plan is not a top down process. “This is really about all of us within the community. There are lots of opportunities for others to engage. The more people who are a part of the process and are thinking through these big challenges, [that] will make the plan … that much richer and more meaningful for us a town,” she said.

Tabor then spoke about the task force’s work over the past year. Tabor is originally from Windham and moved to Kennebunk in 2018 with his family after retiring from the military.

So far, the task force has been busy surveying the community and taking stock of Kennebunk’s current greenhouse gas emissions. Last summer the group sent out a climate action survey, asking residents which climate change threats concern them most and what sort of initiatives they are interested in learning more about. The survey garnered over 400 responses and found that nearly three-quarters of those respondents “were very or extremely concerned that climate change will affect Kennebunk over the coming decades.”

Some survey respondents volunteered to participate in two community sounding board sessions, during which the task force also collected feedback. Tabor relayed that community members emphasized the need to center climate change concerns beyond just sea level rise, protect the economy by protecting the environment, and embed climate considerations in every decision the town makes.

The group then reviewed the town’s current carbon emissions, including analysis that broke out Kennebunk’s municipal emissions from the town’s emissions as a whole. Some of the findings were expected — transportation constitutes 42 percent of the town’s total emissions, for example — but some were less expected. “I was surprised to find out that 20 percent of the town’s [municipal] emissions come from wastewater treatment,” Tabor said. The task force also reviewed a vulnerability assessment of the town, which maps out the ways in which Kennebunk is threatened by the effects of climate change.

The final speaker, Webster, who is originally from Australia but moved to Kennebunk in 2020, spoke about the next step in the process: Evaluating the over 80 strategies that have been suggested to the group by the Southern Maine Planning and Development Commission and International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives.


“These are [strategies] that have had a lot of expert thinking go into them across five areas: … buildings and energy, transport and infrastructure, land use and natural environment, health safety and well being, and leadership and capacity,” Webster said. The group is assessing each strategy across four criteria, which will help them determine which strategies are most impactful and worthwhile.

The group’s next steps also include doing a survey of local businesses and outreach sessions with vulnerable populations, such as the elderly, people with disabilities, and people who live below the poverty line. “Those are the people who will be impacted the most, so we want to make sure our strategies address their needs as much as possible,” Webster said.

The task force plans to to present a draft of the Climate Action Plan to the select board in three months, said Webster.


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