I appreciate this opportunity to provide comments about the challenges that Maine will face in coming years adapting to a changing climate. This meeting comes at time when the realities of climate change have been in the news almost daily.
Over the past few months, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has released four reports about the scientific link between carbon emissions and climate change; about impacts, adaptation and vulnerability issues; and about mitigation strategies.
Last week, the National Climate Assessment revealed in stark terms that climate change is not a challenge for the future; it is a challenge that needs to be addressed today. Impacts of climate change already are being felt by individuals, communities, businesses, ecosystems, and wildlife.
This week we have learned that the western Antarctic ice sheet is melting at an unstoppable pace, according to a new research, which could result in significantly greater sea level rise in the coming decades.
Here in Maine, more than 100 scientists organized by the Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences, described the vulnerability of wildlife and plant species, and key habitats and natural community types, to a changing climate—which could involve temperature increases of 3 degrees to 13 degrees F by 2100.
Maine communities along our southern coastline, Maine businesses that depend on snow or on harvesting species that depend on today’s climate, and a growing number of Maine people are concerned about the changes underway, and how we will adapt.
Much of what we are seeing was anticipated in the 2010 climate adaptation report “People and Nature Adapting to a Changing Climate,” prepared by 75 participating organizations, ranging from Associated Builders and Contractors, Maine Association of Insurance Companies, Maine Municipal Association, Maine Tourism Association, NRCM and the Town of York. Eighteen state and federal agencies provided input to the report.
But here’s the problem: this solid report has been all but ignored by this Administration, and efforts last year by the legislature to initiate a process to build on this report were defeated by the governor’s veto of LD 825.
As the reality of climate change has become increasingly apparent, Maine has lost the leadership position that it once had in addressing climate change.
Several years ago, Maine was broadly considered to be a leader in addressing the threat of climate change. In 1995 we were ahead of the curve in creating an inventory of greenhouse gas emissions. In 2003 we were the first state to pass a climate change law with specific reduction goals, and in 2004 the Maine DEP released Maine’s Climate Action Plan, based on broad stakeholder input. We helped craft the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) program, adopted in 2007, and—as just mentioned—in 2009 and 2010 we had a big stakeholder process underway that identified strategies for adaptation.
This report describes lots of specific actions that state agencies should be taking, but this report was removed from the DEP website in 2011. A link to the climate adaptation report appeared on the homepage of the DEP website as late as June 3, 2011, based on my research, but had disappeared from the DEP website by June 26.
For most of the past three years, DEP’s website has been almost entirely stripped of information about climate change. Recently, a climate page was added, including links to a handful of resources. But the information on this page remains limited given the scope of the challenges we face. We encourage you to put more information on the DEP website, including a link to the National Climate Assessment, to the Manomet Study on the Vulnerability of Habitats and Priority Species, and to the IPCC reports released over the past four months.
The Executive Summary of the 2010 “People and Nature” report had a section titled “We must maintain momentum.” That has not happened. We’ve lost momentum, even as neighboring states are rapidly increasing their efforts to assess the risks and develop adaptation strategies.
State agencies in New Jersey, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont all are doing much more to address climate risks and think about climate adaptation than here in Maine, and I encourage you to look at what those states are doing. But equally important, I urge you to take a look at the sense of urgency in the language and commitment to be of service to the residents in those states.
We believe that Maine’s leadership position on climate issues has dissipated. For most of the past few years this has not been a priority for our natural resource agencies and some significant climate initiatives were terminated.
As the science and on-the-ground reality of climate change become increasingly obvious around the globe, here in Maine we barely even have a conversation underway about what needs to happen now to prepare for the challenges from sea level rise, ocean acidification, increased heat waves, reduced snowfall, more frequent extreme weather events, and changing forest composition.
We need to get to the next level of analysis about what needs to be done to help Maine people, communities, businesses, and government plan for the impacts of a changing climate. One important task: we believe the state should be conducting an inventory and assessment of public infrastructure vulnerability as soon as possible. Strategy B.1.1. in the “People and Nature” report says that “Maine must develop a framework for identifying and cataloguing infrastructure elements at risk of likely foreseeable climate change impacts and effects.”
The report recommended creation of a state-level task force to develop an inventory and map of public infrastructure that could be vulnerable due to sea level rise and increased storm events, and to share this information and methodology with local authorities. We believe this work needs to get underway.
In closing, this listening session is long overdue. However, we are concerned that it is too little, too late. The Administration has not only failed to focus on these issues over the past three years, but has worked to block and undermine work that had been ongoing for much of the previous decade.