Georgia’s third statewide climate conference kicks off Thursday on Jekyll Island. It comes as the United Nations has issued its latest warning about climate change, as a federal infrastructure package advances, and as the conversation around climate change in Georgia has evolved.
The first Georgia climate conference was in late-2016. Jennifer Kline, the lead organizer of the conference, said since that time, she’s seen a change here in the conversation around climate.
For example, she said, this year’s conference will open with a video welcome from officials, including Gov. Brian Kemp and Rep. Buddy Carter, talking about the risks the state faces.
“Really just acknowledging that it’s time to work on adapting and mitigating for climate change,” she said. “I don’t think we were there five years ago.”
Kline, the coastal hazard specialist at the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, said she thinks a couple of things account for the shift.
For one, people on Georgia’s coast are feeling the effects of sea-level rise.
And, she said, for a state that’s big on growing its economy, it makes sense to pay attention to threats and to think about resilience.
“You have to look at the negative impacts to the economy if you want to build an economy,” she said.
Almost half of the states have statewide climate action plans. Georgia isn’t one of those. But Kline said her agency and others are working on climate change and helping local governments to plan more proactively.
Other groups are working on climate change in Georgia, too. The Georgia Climate Project, an initiative put together by Georgia colleges and universities, is working on highlighting where Georgia faces risks and what people can do about it.
Drawdown Georgia, a group with some personnel overlap with the Climate Project, focuses on climate solutions. They recently published a peer-reviewed article, outlining 20 ways Georgia can reduce carbon emissions.
Some of those solutions are in industries Georgia is already making a push in: electric vehicles and solar power.
“I’m particularly bullish with the impact of large-scale solar because it’s a very big driver,” said Marilyn Brown, a public policy professor at Georgia Tech and lead author on the paper, which was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Solar combined with electric vehicles make for an even bigger impact, she said. And there would be positive public health outcomes, too.
“If you invest in EVs, and you don’t clean the grid, you actually may not make any difference. With a clean grid, though, it’s a profound impact. And it’s an immediate impact,” she said.
She said the group focused on solutions that could have near-term effects, would make sense financially in Georgia, and would be of interest to Georgians.
“This is the decade of decision,” she said. “This is the decade when we’ve got to make a significant impact on emissions.”
Drawdown Georgia’s findings will be one of the topics at the climate conference this week. Kline, the conference organizer, said she hopes the conference will show the breadth of what people here are working on.
“My goal for our conference is to really highlight what is happening in Georgia,” she said.