Maine’s economic output could decrease by 15 percent in the next 30 years if the state does not take action to address climate change, according to a new analysis prepared for the Maine Climate Council.
The multi-faceted report from Eastern Research Group and Synapse Energy Economics is part of a nearly two-year process for the council convened by Gov. Janet Mills to develop a climate action plan. That plan will serve as a blueprint lawmakers can use to meet Maine’s energy goals, which include having a carbon-neutral economy by 2045 and getting 100 percent of electricity from renewable resources while cutting emissions by 80 percent by 2050.
One section exploring the cost of the state not taking action to counter climate change shows that the state’s crucial tourism industry has much to lose. One scenario considered how a singular climate-related event — such as massive flooding — could affect the industry, a second modeled how constant “shocks” to the economy from gradual effects of climate change would play out and a third predicted how increasing shocks over time could affect output.
The “constant” scenario was found to be the most dire for the tourism industry, predicting a 17 percent decrease in goods and services produced by 2050 and a 19 percent decrease in the winter tourism sector. If effects increase steadily over time — particularly if the tourism industry were hit by a challenge such as sea level rise — Maine’s economic output would go down by 15 percent, according to the report.
Inaction could particularly affect York County beach economies, which brought in nearly 14 million visitors who collectively spent $1.7 billion in 2018, the report found. Without mitigation, the report estimates a 1.6-foot increase in sea level will erode beaches there by 43 percent, translating to a potential $136 million annual decrease in spending.
Erosion of beaches and dunes would have an ecological effect, too, erasing “essential ecosystem services such as habitats that support coastal biodiversity as well as natural protection from flooding,” the report notes.
Sen. Mark Lawrence, D-Eliot, said he has already seen erosion’s effects on his district, which covers coastal towns from Kittery to Ogunquit. In York, winter storms can drag and throw rocks and water over the Long Sands Beach breakwater, damaging U.S. Route 1 and flooding low-lying areas.
“There’s no question global warming and sea level rise will have a devastating impact on the York County economies,” he said, pointing to various harbors where lobstermen and tour boats operate.
Although the forest industry may not be severely hampered by climate change itself, the steady development of Maine’s natural working lands could translate to climbing “social costs” — meaning the cost communities and individuals would sustain to mitigate climate change.
That’s because forests sequester 75 percent of annual carbon emissions here, serving as a built-in mitigation measure, the report notes. But Maine increases from 10,000 acres of development annually to 15,000 acres in 2030 and 20,000 in 2050, the state could lose the ability to sequester over 543,000 metric tons of carbon by 2100, at a societal cost of $54 million.
The report also examined the intersection between public health costs and the state’s housing stock. It found more high heat index days, or days when the temperature is over 90 degrees, could lead to additional heat-related illnesses costing up to $3.2 million more additional health care per year. Those risks are compounded by the state of Maine’s housing stock, which is more geared towards heating, not cooling.
Kathleen Meil, director of policy and partnerships for Maine Conservation Voters and the co-chair of the council’s building and infrastructure working group, said seeing the increased costs of no action should encourage conversations not just about how to make the state more efficient, but more equitable.
In the case of health and housing, Meil said finding solutions that could make air in homes cleaner while ensuring heating and cooling are economically feasible for vulnerable populations, would be beneficial.
“Rather than viewing it as a mathematical equation looking for a solution, we should be asking ourselves, ‘What other goals can we meet at the same time?’” she said.
The report is relatively narrow in that it focused on costs related to the strategies proposed by the council’s working group strategies. Therefore, it does not “cover all costs that could be incurred … without climate change and adaptation,” its conclusion notes.
The council has produced a series of draft recommendations for how to reduce carbon emissions in sectors from public housing to transportation. Those are expected to be finalized into an action plan by Dec. 1. A meeting to discuss the report is planned for Wednesday.