Maine is about 75 percent of the way toward achieving carbon neutrality, according to a recent report from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.
Full carbon neutrality – the state’s goal by 2045 – will be achieved when all emissions are offset by carbon sequestration in the environment. On that front, it helps that Maine has lots and lots of trees. What the industrialized world spews out, they help soak up. And they look good doing it.
Greenhouse gas emissions in 2019 were down 25 percent from 1990, according to the report. Projections suggest Maine could become carbon neutral by 2033. That’s if emission rates continue to trend downward and forests remain largely unchanged. That’s two pretty significant ifs. And, the report notes, the data have not accounted for woodlands enrolled in carbon markets and whose owners may have sold their offsets to out-of-state entities.
Carbon markets commodify a tree’s existence. A company seeking to hit sustainability goals can buy credits to offset emissions. So, a factory in Massachusetts could buy credits from conserved land in Maine. The trees carry on photosynthesizing. The company carries on burning the fuels it needs to do business. Locally, Frenchman Bay Conservancy has explored entering the voluntary carbon market for its lands.
Participation in carbon markets is growing in Maine, according to the report, which notes “there is no single formal tracking system for Maine forestland enrolled” in the markets. That will be important information to have going forward as the complicated math of so-called carbon budgets evolves. The same forest cannot counterbalance emissions in two places.
Beyond letting trees be trees, to achieve carbon neutrality, Mainers will have to embrace (and be able to afford) measures to reduce emissions from their homes and cars.
Although emissions from the transportation sector were 8 percent lower in 2019 than they were in 1990, transportation accounts for nearly half of Maine’s CO2 emissions from fossil fuels.
The four-year “Maine Won’t Wait” plan from the Maine Climate Council says “The most significant reductions of greenhouse gas emissions in Maine’s transportation sector will come through the long-term and large-scale electrification of our transportation systems, combined with strategies to increase the efficiency of gas- and diesel-powered vehicles, and to reduce the number of miles Mainers drive through expanded options and funding for public transportation, increased broadband deployment across the state, and support for policies that encourage development of housing, schools and shopping areas in pedestrian-friendly downtowns and villages.”
Increasing walkability and public transportation are laudable goals, but hard to apply on a large scale in rural areas. Meanwhile, supply chain issues, cost and driver preference have complicated electric car sales. Registrations of electric vehicles more than doubled in Maine from 2018 to 2021, according to the Bangor Daily News. But the approximately 6,000 EVs is well below the state’s goal of 41,000 by 2025.
Meanwhile, the residential sector generates one-fifth of Maine’s gross greenhouse gas emissions. Despite an ongoing push for home heating alternatives such as electric heat pumps, Maine homes are heavily reliant on heating oil. The high price of that fuel will mean painful choices for many households this coming heating season. The state has funneled millions into efficiency efforts, including equipment rebates and weatherization projects, as well as heating assistance.
It’s what comes next that will prove most transformative – or not – to Maine’s climate future. And as we’ve found with broadband expansion efforts, the last mile is the hardest. Still, it’s well worth celebrating that Maine for now is on track to meet an ambitious goal.