West Branch of the Penobscot River and tributaries as it winds to the southeast of Mount Katahdin.
Penobscot River West Branch of the Penobscot River and tributaries as it winds to the southeast of Mount Katahdin. © Bridget Besaw

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The Important Role of Conservation in the Maine Climate Action Plan

The Maine Climate Council's release of the Climate Action Plan is an enormous achievement for Maine, and a clarion call-to-action for conservation in the state.

Today, the Maine Climate Council released its four-year Climate Action Plan, charting a meaningful, actionable plan for Maine to make a difference on climate change.

“The Nature Conservancy works across the U.S., and I can say with certainty that no state has made more progress planning for climate change than Maine under the leadership of Governor Mills,” said Kate Dempsey, state director for The Nature Conservancy in Maine and a member of the 39-member Council. “This plan reinforces that there is an essential role for nature in helping us meet our climate targets and support communities becoming more resilient. As important, the Climate Action Plan recognizes that policies must address disparities across our state and actively demonstrate equitable approaches.”

This plan reinforces that there is an essential role for nature in helping us meet our climate targets and support communities becoming more resilient.

Kate Dempsey State Director, The Nature Conservancy in Maine

In addition to Dempsey, three of The Nature Conservancy’s(TNC) staff members and two board members have participated in the Climate Council's working groups that produced the final plan. TNC in Maine director of government relations and climate policy Rob Wood serves on the Council's Transportation Working Group and was recently named co-chair; climate adaptation director Jeremy Bell serves on the Coastal & Marine Working Group; forest program director Mark Berry serves on the Natural & Working Lands Working Group; board member Dr. Heather Leslie co-chairs the Coastal & Marine Working Group; and board member Dr. Stephen Shaler serves on the Natural & Working Lands Working Group.

Transportation

The Climate Action Plan has a major focus on transportation, which accounts for more than half of Maine's greenhouse emissions. During the process, TNC advocated for solutions that will put Maine on a trajectory to meet its emissions reduction targets, while emphasizing the importance of equity for rural Mainers who often have little choice but to drive long distances and need additional policy supports to make the transition to a clean transportation future.

Rob Wood, TNC in Maine's Director of Government Relations and Climate Policy.
Robert Wood: Rob is the Director of Government Relations and Climate Policy for The Nature Conservancy in Maine. © Phoebe Parker

"This Climate Action Plan positions Maine to show how a rural state can equitably transition to a cleaner and more affordable transportation system, while still getting where we need to go," said Rob Wood, TNC in Maine director of government relations and climate policy and incoming co-chair of the Council's Transportation Working Group. "In the near term, this means providing incentives to help Mainers voluntarily switch to higher efficiency and battery electric vehicles, increasing access to broadband for remote work and telehealth services, and piloting new technologies that can help reduce emissions in the trucking sector. In the long-run, it also means shifting land use patterns so people can find everything they need to live, work and play right in their local communities."

Forests

Forests also play an important role in the plan—unsurprising, as forests cover 89 percent of Maine. However, the plan estimates that 10,000 acres of forest are lost to development annually, and warns that may accelerate to 15,000 acres within a decade. Through the Council process, TNC underscored the role forests play in addressing climate change and focused on solutions that support conservation and the state's historic, globally-recognized forest economy.

Mark Berry, TNC in Maine's Forest Program Manager.
Mark Berry Mark is the Forest Program Manager for The Nature Conservancy in Maine. © Tristan Spinski

“Maine’s forests hold a vast amount of carbon," said Mark Berry, TNC in Maine forest program director and a member of the Council’s Natural & Working Lands Working Group. "In recent years, our forests have been sequestering an amount equal to 60 percent of Maine’s total emissions. The Climate Action Plan acknowledges the vital role of Maine’s natural and working lands and includes strategies to increase forest conservation and work with private landowners.”

Energy

Maine is on track to get 80 percent of its energy from renewable resources by 2030, among the most ambitious standards in the country. Throughout the Climate Council process, TNC continued to advocate for advancing clean energy and—just as important—ensuring that new clean energy developments are sited to minimize impacts on Maine's natural resources and resource users.

"Maine is an emerging national leader in clean energy, and this Climate Action Plan will help take us to the next level," said Wood. "The Climate Action Plan lays out the steps that will get us to the next level, including targets for specific technologies like offshore wind and energy storage. It also envisions a power sector transformation stakeholder process to tackle big questions like how to ensure Maine's electric grid is strengthened to accommodate the clean energy we need."

Resilient Communities

The Climate Action Plan also emphasizes the need to build healthy and resilient communities. The TNC statewide stream crossing dataset—painstakingly compiled over the last decade—was instrumental in assessing the costs and benefits of infrastructure upgrades to prevent flooding and road washouts from severe storm events. TNC staff also provided background information from TNC's successful climate adaptation work in other parts of New England, and land use planning and coastal adaptation expertise from right here in Maine.

Jeremy Bell, TNC in Maine's Climate Adaptation Program Director.
Jeremy Bell: Climate Adaptation Program Director for The Nature Conservancy in Maine © Phoebe Parker

"Mainers are resilient and are good at adapting to whatever nature sends their way," said Jeremy Bell, TNC in Maine climate adaptation program director and a member of the Council's Coastal & Marine Working Group. "As the climate changes and Maine sees more severe storms, coastal flooding, heat waves, tick borne diseases, and other challenges, that resilience is going to be especially important. Proactively building climate-ready infrastructure, as laid out in the Climate Action Plan, will make communities safer, prevent economic loss, and also protect the environment. In addition, designing infrastructure that is compatible with nature preserves the beauty of Maine, while at the same time protecting people from flooding and other natural disasters."

"Despite the challenging circumstances we have all faced this year," Dempsey noted, "the Climate Council has emerged as a bright spot, bringing Mainers together to chart a path toward a brighter, more sustainable future for our economy and our environment."

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in 75 countries and territories: 37 by direct conservation impact and 38 through partners, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit www.nature.org or follow @nature_press on Twitter.