Governor Charlie Baker signed an executive order Friday directing state officials to develop regulations for specific, annual reductions in greenhouse gas emissions by next summer.
The order comes on the heels of a court ruling that the state has not done enough to meet its obligations under the state's 2008 Global Warming Solutions Act, which requires Massachusetts to cut its greenhouse gases 25 percent below 1990 levels by 2020.
Baker also directed officials, in the order, to develop a statewide plan for "adaptation and resiliency" in the face of expected sea level rise and anticipated growth in wildfires and extreme weather events.
"From historic droughts . . . to the winter of 2015 . . . and coastal and inland flooding, climate change threatens our environment, our residents, our communities, and our economy," said Baker, a Republican, at a State House signing ceremony. "This executive order signals our continuing commitment to combatting and preparing . . . for climate change impacts across state government and in our communities."
Environmental advocates said the order marks an important shift in tone for a state government that, under Baker and his Democratic predecessor Deval Patrick, fought a lawsuit designed to establish specific limits on greenhouse gas emissions.
"We think this is a major change in the posture of the [state]," said Bradley M. Campbell, president of the Conservation Law Foundation, which helped bring the lawsuit in 2014. "With a stroke of a pen, the governor has changed the conversation from a legal debate to getting the job done."
Campbell was quick to add, though, that "the proof will be in what emerges from the [regulatory] process" that Baker set in motion with his executive order.
The order suggests the state will target some of the biggest emitters, mentioning the transportation and energy sectors by name. But it says nothing about what kind of annual limits the regulations might impose or how the state will push industry to meet them.
Asked what kind of action regulators might take to limit vehicle emissions, for instance, Baker's secretary of energy and environmental affairs Matthew A. Beaton said at the signing ceremony, "Time will tell, the work continues, the work goes on, we have no specific solution in mind yet."
Environmental advocates suggested several possibilities for emissions reductions across a variety of sectors. The state could offer incentives to the state's taxi operators to use more electric vehicles, for instance, or require grocery stores and trucking companies to move toward more environmentally friendly refrigerants.
Industry is already jockeying for position.
Dan Dolan, president of the New England Power Generators Association in Boston, touted his sector's work in reducing emissions and suggested transportation might be a ripe target for future curbs.
"We're very supportive in particular," he said, "of the push by the governor to recognize that the carbon-reduction mandates are going to be required economy-wide, particularly the transportation sector."