Georgia’s climate is changing, and Georgia’s cities are well positioned to seize the opportunities that come with tackling this challenge head on. Implementing innovative and sustainable practices can deliver long-term value by both building resilience to climate-related risks and positioning cities to lead in the economy of the future.
Some have called it the “new abnormal”—19 of the planet’s 20 warmest years on record have taken place since 2000, 2019 was Georgia’s warmest year since observations began in 1895, and temperatures are projected to continue to increase for decades to come.
Why does this matter for Georgia’s cities? The three Ws: warmer, weirder and worse. Warmer means that Georgians are at an increased risk of heat-related illness and our infrastructure is under more heat related stress. Warmer also means that sea levels on our coast are rising due to expansion of water and melting glaciers. We’re already seeing more “sunny day” flooding, and projections suggest that we could see several feet of sea level rise by the end of the century.
Weirder means that our weather systems change as the atmosphere and oceans heat up. We expect hurricanes to become more intense. As we saw with Hurricane Michael, these storms can do billions of dollars of damage to the state, and we expect more intense downpours. Paradoxically, we also expect to see more frequent and intense droughts, threatening water supplies for our cities and rural communities alike. Worse means that these impacts present significant risks to lives, livelihoods and the natural systems on which we depend. And they often disproportionately affect low-income populations that are already highly vulnerable to other shocks and stressors.
Georgia’s cities are on the front lines of responding to a changing climate, taking concrete steps to both adapt to the impacts of climate change and to cut their carbon footprint. In the process, they are boosting health and promoting economic development in their communities.
Cities are also taking steps to deal with inland flooding concerns. In Valdosta, after a major 2009 flooding event, city officials relocated their wastewater treatment plant to higher ground. Atlanta is pursuing green infrastructure projects like the Historic Fourth Ward Park lake, which not only saved $15 million relative to the traditional alternative but is also mitigating damaging flooding events and providing valuable recreation space in the heart of a rapidly developing area.
Four Georgia cities—Atlanta, Athens, Augusta and Clarkston—have made commitments to 100 percent clean energy. Atlanta projects that achieving the 100 percent goal can deliver 8,000 new jobs and cut healthcare costs by more than $500 million.
These efforts are an important start, but there is much more to do. Thanks to its cities, Georgia has the potential to be a regional and even national leader when it comes to developing a clear-eyed response to climate change, one which minimizes our risks and maximizes our future.
The Georgia Climate Project is designed to support policymakers and practitioners across the state in this effort. We are a non-partisan consortium of nine colleges and universities in the state committed to partnering with others to improve understanding of climate change impacts and to be a resource for the development of climate solutions. Learn more at www.GeorgiaClimateProject.org
This article appears in the March/April 2020 edition of Georgia’s Cities Magazine.