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'What Can We Do About It?' — Weeklong Climate Symposium Kicks Off In Portland

Susan Sharon
Maine Public
The Gulf of Maine 2050 International Symposium kicks off Monday in Portland.

On the same day that President Donald Trump announced that the United States will officially withdraw from the 2015 Paris climate agreement, designed to keep global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius, scientists, government officials and policymakers began meeting in Portland to prepare for climate change.

Organizers say the goal of the five-day Gulf of Maine 2050 International Symposium is to build climate resilience. Keynote speaker Ko Barrett, vice chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, says limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, considered a major tipping point or a danger line, is not impossible but will be a monumental task.

“It would require rapid, unprecedented transitions in all aspects of society, transitions like we are seeing in the energy sector, only faster,” she says.

Those sectors, Barrett says, include agriculture, transportation and municipal infrastructure, among others. It would also require deep emissions cuts quickly and deployment of a range of new technologies.

“Some of which are only now in a pilot stage like bio-energy, carbon capture and storage. It depends upon fundamental behavior changes and increased investment in low and no-carbon options,” she says.

If the world continues to warm at its current rate, Barrett says global temperature is expected to reach 1.5 degrees somewhere between 2030 and 2052. Facing that change will be an enormous challenge, but Theresa Torrent of the Maine Department of Marine Resources says the idea is to confront it together.

“The purpose of Gulf of Maine 2050 is to activate the talents of people around the Gulf of Maine and build a safe and productive future,” she says.

The Gulf is one of the fastest warming bodies of water on the planet, and planners are calling for rapid, dramatic actions to curtail greenhouse gas emissions, invest in renewable energy and respond to rising seas.

Gov. Janet Mills says Maine is committed to upholding the Paris agreement no matter what Washington does.

“We know that climate change is no longer a question. It is a fact, and I come before you to say what can we do about it? That’s the only question in my mind. How do we address it?” she says.

So far, the state of Maine has agreed to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 45 percent below 1990 levels over the next 10 years and by at least 80 percent by 2050. The state has also made a commitment to double the use of renewable energy over the next decade.