Hundreds of students rally outside Portland City Hall on Friday afternoon as part of a worldwide rally to draw attention to climate change. Credit: Troy R. Bennett | BDN

Gov. Janet Mills recently signed sweeping legislation that will transform the way Maine responds to our climate crisis. The bill is called An Act to Promote Clean Energy Jobs and to Establish the Maine Climate Council. It overwhelmingly passed the Legislature with a two-thirds majority, which means that it goes into effect immediately as emergency legislation.

It also reveals bipartisan recognition from around the state that it’s finally time to address the monumental challenge of climate change. The law is a huge step forward for Maine after years of inaction under former Gov. Paul LePage, and this is certainly a moment for celebration before we get to work.

The unfortunate reality is that Maine is already experiencing the devastating effects of climate change, from warming waters in the Gulf of Maine threatening our fishing industries to higher temperatures increasing tick populations and worsening allergies. Climate change endangers our health, property and very way of life. And that’s why such a diverse crowd – including fishermen, farmers, small business owners, as well as Conservation Law Foundation and other environmental organizations– stood with Mills when she first introduced the bill.

The only way to fight back against these economic, health and environmental impacts is to drop our fossil fuel habit and drastically lower our polluting emissions now, and this law will help get us there.

It will slash our climate-damaging emissions while creating jobs and growing the economy through a three-step approach. First, it sets mandatory targets for cutting these emissions 45 percent by 2030 and 80 percent by 2050. These levels will function as goalposts, guiding the state’s decision-making going forward.

Next, the state will develop a science-based plan for achieving those objectives. The law will also help Mainers from across the state together to work on formulating this plan by creating a climate council — including folks from the forestry, fishing, and manufacturing industries, as well as representatives of tribes, small businesses, youth, and towns and cities.

How will the state cut climate pollution and emissions by such a large amount? We’ll have to wait for the council’s planning process to run its course before we know for sure, but there are some efforts that we think should be front and center.

For instance, we know that the new plan will guide the state’s transition to a clean energy economy with a focus on creating good, long-term jobs, especially in our rural communities. Between this law and several others passed this year, it’s safe to say that we’ll be seeing investments in solar and huge growth in local, renewable energy businesses, which will benefit people across the state.

The new law may also lead to money for farmers and landowners who choose to set aside or carefully manage portions of their property to better capture carbon pollution. And considering that Maine’s transportation sector contributes more than half of the state’s climate-damaging emissions, you can be certain that the state will get more serious about tackling emissions from cars and trucks, too.

These efforts (and more) are essential if we’re going to combat the worst impacts of the growing climate crisis. Thankfully, our leaders have recognized that now is the time for action and they have stepped up to tackle this most urgent threat of our generation — as climate change waits for no one.

Greg Cunningham is vice president and director of Conservation Law Foundation’s Clean Energy and Climate Change program. He is based in Portland.