The Portland City Council on Monday will consider declaring a “climate emergency” and pledging more aggressive action on climate issues in response to a youth-led rally that drew several thousand people to City Hall in September.
The “Resolution supporting the youth strikes for emergency climate crisis action in Maine” is similar to a resolution passed by the South Portland City Council in October. Both resolutions are modeled after – but not identical to – language that was presented to leaders of the two cities in September by local students who organized one of hundreds of “climate strikes” held around the globe.
In large part, the resolution that will be discussed Monday by Portland councilors reiterates the goals that are expected to be included in the “One Climate Future” action and adaptation plan under development by the governments of Portland and South Portland. Those goals include an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and to operate the cities on 100 percent renewable energy by 2040.
But the resolution goes a step further by pledging to work more aggressively to achieve those greenhouse gas emissions and carbon neutrality goals by 2030. The resolution also states that “the City of Portland hereby declares that a climate emergency threatens our city, our region, our state, our nation, humanity, and the natural world and reaffirms its commitment to local climate action.”
The City Council’s Sustainability and Transportation Committee endorsed the resolution in a 3-0 vote in October.
Anna Siegel, a 13-year-old Yarmouth resident who served as the lead organizer in Maine for the U.S. Youth Climate Strikes, said the declaration of a “climate emergency” and adoption of ambitious goals send a clear, important signal.
“It is something people can rally behind; it is something people can work towards,” said Siegel, an eighth-grade student at the Friends School in Portland.
Siegel said she and other advocates for the resolution are comfortable with the changes proposed by the committee and city staff. But they did press hard for – and succeed in having included – the accelerated goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2030.
“The 2030 timeline was important … because it not only provides a goal, but it is also what the science is asking for and will provide us with a safe future,” Siegel said. “Yes, that is ambitious. But in Maine, we have the capacity to get there.”
The “climate emergency” resolution was a key part of the student-led climate strike that drew more than 2,000 middle school, high school and college students and “adult allies” to Portland City Hall on Sept. 20. Similar youth-led rallies were held around the world that day to coincide with a climate summit held that week at the United Nations in New York.
The events were part of a growing movement of youth climate activists worldwide – epitomized by global climate activist Greta Thunberg of Sweden – who are fed up with government inaction on an environmental crisis that they say threatens their very futures.
As Siegel and others read the resolution that day, they were joined by city leaders from both Portland and South Portland.
“We accept your demands, and we will act on your demands,” Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling told the fired-up crowd after accepting a copy of the resolution from two young girls.
Portland City Councilor Spencer Thibodeau, who chairs the Sustainability and Transportation Committee, said there was clearly a positive reception to the resolution in committee.
Thibodeau said the language of the resolution “falls in line with our goals that we had already started to take up as a city,” pointing to the One Climate Future action plan being developed jointly by Portland and South Portland. Both cities have committed $110,000 to the initiative, which is expected to be finalized next year.
“The youth climate strikers put forward an extremely aggressive timeline, and to meet this challenge, we have to be aggressive,” Thibodeau said of the 2030 goal.
The document also acknowledges that Portland cannot go it alone by demanding that “the federal government, and all governments and peoples around the world initiate an immediate social and economic mobilization to reverse global warming and ecological destruction.”
But there are things that city government can and should do to reduce its climate footprint, Thibodeau said.
“That’s where the rubber hits the road,” he said. “There are the things the city can do to put us on a path to that goal. But what the resolution acknowledges is it is going to take a partnership at the state and federal level.”
In a reversal from her predecessor, Gov. Janet Mills has made addressing climate change a top priority and created a nearly 40-member Maine Climate Council to propose actions. Those goals include reducing statewide greenhouse gas emissions by 45 percent by 2030 and by 80 percent by 2050, and increasing the amount of electricity from renewable sources from the current 4o percent to 80 percent by 2030 and 100 percent by 2050.
Mills, a Democrat, has also said Maine will work toward the international goals established by the 2015 Paris climate accord despite the fact that President Trump recently moved to withdraw the U.S. from the agreement.
Siegel said she was pleased to see the change in direction at the state level and agrees that both Portland and South Portland have been active on climate issues. But that is not always the case, she said, as local governments and state leaders expect each other to take leadership on climate issues.
“Eventually someone needs to make the first move,” she said.
The climate emergency resolution will be one of the issues discussed during the City Council meeting that begins 4:30 p.m. Monday at City Hall.