Maine has written four greenhouse gas goals into state law to compel the government to do its part to curb climate change and prevent the earth from overheating: cut emissions 10% from 1990 levels by 2020, 45% by 2030, 80% by 2050, and achieve carbon neutrality by 2045.

In a report issued Tuesday, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection announced that Maine had met its easiest emissions reduction goal – a 10% reduction by 2020 – and was 91% of the way toward meeting its carbon neutrality goal by 2045.

Maine has been consistently meeting its 10% reduction goal since 2016, but the DEP was eager to see its gross emissions in 2020, the target date. But the pandemic complicated matters: Was 2020’s 21.6 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions a climate achievement or a side effect of quarantine?

With data now available through Dec. 31, 2021 – showing emissions had rebounded but were still below pre-pandemic levels – Maine can be certain it had achieved its 10% reduction goal, according to the DEP’s Stacy Knapp, who briefed the Maine Climate Council on Monday.

“The important part is that while our emissions did rebound after the pandemic, they were still lower than that 2019 level,” Knapp said. “Six percent lower, to be specific. As of 2021, we see a 30% reduction in gross greenhouse gas emissions from those 1990 levels.”

In 1990, Maine produced 31.4 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents. Emissions initially increased, peaking at 37.1 in 2002, before dropping below 1990 levels in 2009. As of 2021, the last year in the report, Maine’s emissions totaled 21.9 million tons: 30% below 1990 levels.


Maine has a long way to go for its next goal – 17.3 million tons, or a 45% cut – and only six years to do it. Knapp did not dwell on how the state planned to do that in her Climate Council briefing other than to say DEP would continue to work toward its 2030 and 2050 reduction goals.

Unlike the emissions reduction goals, carbon neutrality can be improved from both ends: cutting greenhouse gas emissions, which trap the sun’s heat in the Earth’s atmosphere and cause warming, and increasing the sinks that absorb atmospheric carbon and store it someplace, like a tree’s roots.

Going carbon-neutral – a goal Boston, New York, Hawaii, Sweden, France, Costa Rica and other jurisdictions have pledged to achieve by midcentury – means your city, state or country makes no net contribution of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.

In practice, this often entails finding ways to reduce the burning of fossil fuels and buying or creating carbon-devouring “offsets” to make up for what you have left, usually by planting trees, which store carbon dioxide, or by allowing salt marshes to migrate inland.

According to the report, the state has achieved 91% of its 2045 neutrality goal by cutting greenhouse gas emissions, by using less fossil fuel, and increasing the amount of emissions it sequesters in the environment, like salt marshes and eelgrass beds but especially in Maine forests and wood products.



For example, 89% of Maine’s land is forested, which absorbs 22.2 million tons of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. But some trees are cut, and some timber is burned for fuel. That makes Maine’s woodlands an emitter, too, releasing 4.4 million tons back into the atmosphere each year.

In total, 14.5 million tons are sequestered in Maine forests, or not able to be immediately released.

All of Maine’s carbon sinks combined cancel out 91.3% of Maine’s 1990 gross greenhouse gas emissions, Knapp said. That leaves about 1.4 million metric tons of emissions in the atmosphere left to trap the sun’s heat and contribute to climate change.

Two years ago, in Maine’s first carbon budget, the DEP estimated Maine was 75% of its way to achieving carbon neutrality. While in-state emissions reductions have improved, the statistic also benefited from changes in how the U.S. Forest Service and Maine researchers calculate carbon in the forest.

Maine’s largest source of emissions is energy consumption, and 65% of those emissions come from the combustion of petroleum products. Carbon dioxide emissions are declining, but Knapp said the emissions coming from fossil fuel use had remained the same from 2019 through 2021.

Maine still relies on petroleum to heat more than 60% of residential buildings, the report notes.

“So much of this is great news to be celebrated, but clearly we have some work to do,” Knapp said.

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