Maine announced its Climate Action Plan in December last year with as much pomp as our Zoom reality permits, featuring bipartisan words of enthusiasm from Governor Janet Mills, the state’s entire US congressional delegation, business, labor, and social leaders, and even a cameo appearance by John Kerry, recently named to be President Biden’s Special Presidential Envoy for Climate.
The plan itself, called Maine Won’t Wait, was elegantly laid out in an attractive 120-page report (take a look at climatecouncil.maine.gov for an overview). However, the broad-based warm reception on that day in December was thanks primarily to the inclusive process that the Maine Climate Council had used to create the strategies. The 16-month effort offers lessons about what collaborative leadership looks like, and can achieve, on issues as thorny and potentially partisan as climate change and raises questions about how to improve work group coordination and implement deeper engagement with vulnerable populations.
CBI got a front-row seat in the process. The state brought us on board in early 2020 to facilitate the Climate Council’s work and help design stakeholder and public outreach strategies.
Shortly after the plan was released, my colleague Peter Woodrow and I sat down (virtually) with our colleagues at the Governor’s Office of Policy Innovation and the Future who had led the effort, to consider what we had learned. This is what we discussed.
I’ve found people often fall into two camps when faced with an ambitious, multi-stakeholder process such as the Maine Climate Council – those who are enthusiastic about a participatory, consensus-seeking dialogue and those who dread the time and transaction costs of producing a meaningful output with so many voices at the table.
The Maine Climate Council leaned into the participatory and inclusive nature of its work. More than 200 Mainers participated actively in the 40-person council, its six working groups, and Science and Technical Subcommittee. Thousands more people weighed in during public and stakeholder outreach. Was all this effort worth it? Absolutely – the energy created around the plan’s initiative served as an important metric for success, with people now eager to get involved in its implementation.
The tailwinds aren’t just blowing from one sector. Environmental advocates in the state are running with the Climate Action Plan as a common rallying cry. Business and labor leaders also see elements they like, particularly the emphasis on economic opportunity and jobs.
Maine’s state legislature created the Climate Council, and Governor Mills championed it. At the same time, the governor demonstrated that she was willing to champion climate action by making new commitments and speaking out in international fora. These actions showed participants that the work would be taken seriously.
In addition, senior state administration officials invested time to work individually with council members and other stakeholders on tough issues, setting the stage for more constructive dialogue in the full group. The state’s leadership gave consistent signals it was fully invested in seeing a compelling outcome from the Council.
The working group co-chairs emerged as prominent leaders in the process as well. In retrospect, the administration chose wisely when it named co-chairs who also had crucial roles in implementing the strategies.
Finally, the state invested in a 4-person staff team that had the credentials and skills to develop and guide a stepwise workplan. The team also had significant substantive experience, allowing it to synthesize and consolidate the strategies emerging from the Council’s working groups.
Participants could see how the discussions translated into draft documents. In addition, a strong website provided a high level of transparency. Effective facilitation can play an important role in crafting a transparent, inviting, and accessible process.
The Science and Technical Subcommittee produced the state’s first comprehensive scientific and technical assessment about climate change in Maine in a decade. This, combined with dynamic emissions modeling and economic analysis, set the stage for the Council to focus its deliberation on shared technical information.
The University of Maine conducted an “equity assessment” on draft strategies emerging from the working groups in mid 2020. The assessment, combined with a synthesis of public input, helped put front and center the concerns, needs, and aspirations of Mainers who might typically have less voice in a high-level process such as this. It also provided an analytical tool to prioritize strategies and orient implementation.
To elevate equity considerations further, in December, Maine created an Equity Subcommittee to support the climate plan’s implementation to ensure shared benefits across diverse populations in Maine.
Initial work to develop draft strategies was more laborious than needed due to delays in getting technical consultants on board and conducting analyses. The initial development of draft strategies would have benefitted from synchronizing products from consultants with working group dialogue.
Also, coordination of the working groups was time consuming, and the groups themselves, typically with 20-35 members, struggled under the weight of their own process at times. Smaller core groups conducting targeted outreach to bring in additional voices would likely have been more efficient.
Finally, public engagement, particularly engagement with vulnerable populations and Mainers who don’t often participate in policy development such as this, was a challenge due to the pandemic. Extensive planning to hold meetings across the state was thrown out the window. The council, in the end, did get significant input through virtual and asynchronous engagement, as well as targeted outreach. I hope the Equity Subcommittee can consider ways to broaden the reach of Mainers involved in the implementation phase.
Maine didn’t wait to take action and is diving into new challenges. CBI is now assisting the state to develop an Offshore Wind Roadmap that names the steps the state should take to become a leader in floating offshore technology, while also ensuring any development is compatible with existing ocean users. The lessons from the Climate Council are needed more than ever.