A wave breaks against a sea wall in front of homes along Wells Beach in January. The porch of the house in center is seen sagging in the middle after a storm surge undercut the foundation. Numerous homes along Wells Beach were damaged in the consecutive storms last winter. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Maine must pick up the pace of climate preparations by redoubling its efforts and opening up its wallet to prepare for the warmer, wetter, stormier future that scientists say, in many cases, is already here, according to the Maine Climate Council.

One council member after another emphasized the urgency of the climate crisis at its Tuesday meeting, where the council received a 268-page climate science report and proposals on how to cut emissions to soften the blow and prepare the people, economy and natural places for what is coming.

“We are in a fight against the climate,” said Linda Nelson, a council member and the economic development director in Stonington. “We have blown past mitigation where I live. All we can focus on is adaptation. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off. It’s nice to say that, but that adaptation, well, that is really difficult.”

Council members heard that Maine has met some of the goals in the state’s 2020 climate action plan, such as installing 100,000 heat pumps by 2025, and is well on its way to meeting others, like carbon neutrality by 2045. But it has fallen behind on others, like conserving 30% of its lands by 2030.

“This is a really big goal,” said Amanda Beal, the commissioner of the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry. “When we first set this the first time around, we didn’t really have time to dig down into finding out what it would take to get there, what it would take to do that.”

Maine currently has conserved about 22% of its 21.3 million acres. Since adopting a climate action plan, Maine has increased conservation efforts to protect habitat, and increase carbon storage and recreation. But at 50,000 acres a year, the state won’t achieve its 30% goal until 2047.


The Natural Lands Committee urged Maine to downsize its goal and commit instead to 1.5 million more acres by 2030. The new goal still requires Maine to step up its game – at current rates, it may take Maine 11 years to hit it – but is much more feasible.

To do that, the committee recommended creating a permanent conservation fund to generate about $50 million a year through mitigation funds; real estate transfer taxes; outdoor goods, room or meal taxes; and resource conservation funds.

A look “under the hood” shows that Maine is even worse at protecting agricultural lands, Beal said. Only 3.5% are protected. The committee wants to double the undeveloped farmland protected by 2030, which it estimates would cost about $20 million annually. It has not yet come up with a funding mechanism.

Some committees want to expand on goals Maine already has met to extend their benefits to new groups.

The buildings committee, for example, wants to create heat pump installation and weatherization goals for low-income households. By 2030, Maine should have 32,000 heat pumps in low-income homes and have 10,000 low-income homes weatherized.

Heat pumps and weatherization are two of the council’s most popular energy savings programs.


Some groups recommended new goals in light of new evidence of the damage a changing climate can do.

The coastal and marine working group called for the creation of a $100 million fund from bonds, budget surpluses or federal funding to prepare the coast for the devastating one-two punch of extreme weather and sea level rise. That power was on display in back-to-back winter storms in January.

“We all have very vivid memories,” said Curt Brown, a lobsterman and biologist with Ready Seafood in Saco. “For me, it was the first time I’ve ever seen water come up over Deake’s Wharf where I keep my boat, and the flood of images from around the coast of docks literally getting washed away.”

Maine scientists delivered their latest temperature, precipitation, sea level rise and storm predictions to the council, offering a broad assessment of changing conditions in Maine and what the state can expect as global temperatures rise and weather patterns shift.

Armed with the latest science, the council aims to build on the goals of its first plan, Maine Won’t Wait, which included installing 100,000 heat pumps by 2025, having 219,000 electric cars on the road by 2030, and achieving carbon neutrality by 2045. An updated climate action plan is due Dec. 1.



Here are the key takeaways from The Scientific Assessment of Climate Change and Its Effects in Maine:

• Maine is Getting Warmer and Wetter: The past four years in Maine have ranked among the 10 warmest on record. Winters are warming the fastest. The average temperature will rise 2-4 degrees by 2050 and up to 10 degrees by 2100. Rain is increasing overall, with more intense downpours.

• Increased Weather Extremes: Dry periods will become drier and wet periods will get wetter. The 2020 growing season was the driest on record; the summer of 2023 was the wettest. Winter storms will become more intense.

Human Health Impacts: Climate change poses a health risk to Mainers through extreme weather, increased heat stress, illnesses transmitted by ticks and mosquitoes, increasing airborne allergens like pollen, and mental health impacts. Food security is also at risk.

• Social and Economic Impacts: Climate change hurts Maine’s economy by disrupting tourism and natural resource industries like fishing, farming and forestry. Homeowners are predicted to see the second-largest home insurance rate increase in the country in 2024.

• Vulnerable Populations: Elderly, low-income or rural Mainers are more vulnerable to the negative effects of climate change. Middle-aged men who work in a natural resource industry like fishing or forestry are especially vulnerable to heat-related illnesses.


• Sea Level Rise and Coastal Storms: Sea levels are rising faster than ever before, with record-high sea levels measured along the coast in 2023 and 2024, but scientists say Maine should keep preparing for 1.5 feet of sea level rise by 2050 and 4 feet by 2100.

Marsh Loss and Erosion: Rising seas threaten coastal marshes, which provide habitat, storm protection and carbon storage. They have nowhere to migrate due to development and are at risk of inundation. Coastal bluffs and sand beaches are also at risk of erosion.

• Marine Impacts: The Gulf of Maine is warming faster than 97% of the world’s oceans. This disrupts the food web, leading to declines in high-value catches like lobster. By 2050, ocean acidification will make conditions unfavorable for shell growth for most of the year.

• Agriculture: Increased weather variability, such as early springs punctuated by late frosts, is hurting crop yields. Warmer temperatures mean longer growing seasons and offer some opportunities for new crops, but also introduce new risks from pests and diseases.

• Biodiversity: Climate change is contributing to local species extinctions: for example, a quarter of Maine’s at-risk butterflies are threatened by climate change. Habitat protection is lagging. Maine is 17 years behind its goal of conserving 30% of its lands by 2030.

• Forest Management: Maine’s forests sequester immense amounts of carbon, but are susceptible to climate-driven threats like warm-weather disease and pests. Management practices must evolve to maintain forest health and optimize carbon storage capacity.

• Freshwater Resource Management: Increased frequency and ferocity of floods from heavy rains will erode stream banks, reshape stream channels and will accelerate the spread of invasive species. Saltwater intrusion and inundation are coastal threats.

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