The Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta. Credit: Warren LeMay / Creative Commons

Reprinted from E&E News with permission from POLITICO, LLC. Copyright 2021. E&E News provides essential news for energy and environment professionals. 

Georgia’s leaders have long rejected carbon reduction targets, calling such policies too complex, too politicized and too risky to the state’s economy.

Experts from three of the state’s top research universities say otherwise.

In a new study, scientists from the Georgia Institute of Technology, the University of Georgia and Emory University say Georgia could halve its carbon emissions from 2005 levels by the end of this decade using tools and technologies already available to mayors, councils, commissions and the private sector.

That includes expanding utility-scale solar production, encouraging and incentivizing electric vehicle use, retrofitting homes and buildings, adopting climate-friendly forest practices, and even reducing food waste, according to the analysis of “Drawdown Georgia,” a policy framework for achieving net-zero carbon emissions in the Peach State.

The paper, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, marks the first comprehensive analysis of Drawdown Georgia’s recommendations and “validates the viability of the … roadmap and shows how the state, its businesses, and its people can benefit by being trailblazers,” said Marilyn Brown, regents professor of public policy at Georgia Tech who co-authored the paper with 10 experts from the three research universities.

“Georgia can show the rest of the country how to scale key regional solutions that reduce carbon footprints in a way that is also friendly to the economy. These solutions also advance the public health, as well as equity in under-resourced communities,” she added.

The researchers said that “localized climate reduction strategies are especially critical in states and regions that lack top-down climate leadership.” To date, only 25 states have committed to meet carbon reduction goals consistent with the Paris climate accord, the paper notes. Twenty-two have official climate plans.

Even for states with climate plans, relatively few have examined the full range of issues associated with targeted emissions reductions, including how such measures affect social, racial and economic equity. The number “shrinks further as the treatment of other societal priorities such as ecosystem diversity and employment impacts are considered,” the Georgia experts said.

According to the analysis, Georgia’s net greenhouse gas emissions would fall from 156.5 million tons in 2005 to 79 million tons in 2030 if the state implemented the solutions “at an achievable pace.” In 2020, the state’s emissions were estimated at 122 million tons.

While the lion’s share of Georgia’s CO2 emissions come from the energy, buildings and transportation sectors, experts say the state’s rural economy can make a sizable contribution to carbon reduction efforts.

“Sustainable food, agriculture, and forestry systems are the backbone of Georgia’s rural economy and can offer a plethora of climate solutions to meet Georgia’s carbon reduction goals,” said Sudhagar Mani, a professor in the School of Chemical, Materials, and Biomedical Engineering at Georgia and a co-author of the study.

Practices like composting and conservation tillage, for example, can improve the carbon-absorption and storage capacity from farmlands and forests.

The “Drawdown Georgia” project was launched in 2020 and modeled on a similarly named global effort called “Project Drawdown,” but it is tailored to Georgia’s geography, economy and politics.

Proposals had to meet four criteria, officials said. They had to be technologically and market ready for Georgia, the state had to have sufficient local experience and data to implement them, they had to remove at least 1 megaton of carbon dioxide equivalent from the atmosphere per year, and they had to be cost-effective.

Brown said the hurdles to meeting those criteria are falling in Georgia and elsewhere. She cited falling costs for solar power generation and battery storage, as well as an explosion of jobs in clean technology and carbon capture, as areas where Georgia can capitalize.

“We just have to accelerate a little bit and make progress more rapidly than we have in the past 10 to 12 years,” she said. “But we can do it.”