Georgia Tech researchers and consultants publish recommendations from community partners and stakeholders on advancing equity and inclusivity in climate solutions.
“We’re bringing climate solutions home.” The slogan for Drawdown Georgia represents the initiative’s mission to accelerate progress toward net zero greenhouse gas emissions in the state of Georgia. In 2021, the multi-university Drawdown Georgia research team published its findings on 20 high-impact carbon mitigation solutions for the state of Georgia. From the start, the team understood that focusing on carbon alone would not suffice; given this, they also considered “beyond carbon” dimensions of the solutions. These included potential impacts, risks, and benefits related to the economy, the environment, public health, and equity. A follow-on report published recently offers a deeper dive into equity-related risks and opportunities for selected solutions. Contributors to the Drawdown Georgia Equity Opportunities Project include the Ray C. Anderson Center for Sustainable Business, Serve-Learn-Sustain, RCE Greater Atlanta, and two equity-focused organizations — Partnership for Southern Equity (PSE), and Taproot. The project team engaged with stakeholders to provide recommendations on how climate solutions can promote inclusivity and equity.
Why Equity Matters
Carbon reduction technologies are key to addressing climate change. However, deliberate and intentional effort is needed to ensure equitable access to climate change solutions and their benefits. This is all the more critical given that Georgia and its Southern state neighbors are anticipated to be among the states most adversely affected by climate change impacts across most major economic and related indicators (GDP, mortality, agricultural yields, etc.). In addition, a significant portion of Georgia’s population is not only particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change but also at risk of being excluded from the benefits related to Georgia’s transition to a low-carbon economy. This risk stems from existing inequities that limit access to and affordability of climate solutions. For example, Georgia currently ranks in the highest U.S. quartile for poverty levels, and Atlanta typically ranks among the highest (first or second) in income disparities among major U.S. metropolitan regions. Georgia is also among the states with high “energy burdens,” or proportion of household income spent on energy consumption. The same holds true for Atlanta when compared to similar cities across the country. These indicators are even more pronounced when accounting for racial inequities. Given these circumstances, a significant number of individuals and communities are not currently in a position to access rooftop solar, electric vehicles, regenerative agricultural practices, and many of the other carbon solutions. Notwithstanding these challenges, inequities can be addressed and benefits for these populations can be realized through targeted assistance and support as carbon reduction solutions are implemented. For example, energy burden can be reduced through retrofitting (insulating and weatherizing homes) and solar deployment that targets lower income communities, and small landowners can benefit from conservation agriculture approaches that over the long term can enhance soil and crop productivity. These and other solutions can also increase economic opportunities through job creation and business ownership. These are just a few examples among many, but successful expansion of solution access and their benefits to those not typically “at the table” will need to be an explicit priority for implementation approaches and policies.
Consulting Experts and Stakeholders
Building on the initial Drawdown Georgia research, the team determined that additional work needed to be done to incorporate stakeholder perspectives on equity-related risks, barriers, and opportunities associated with the identified carbon mitigation solutions for Georgia. To promote deeper engagement, the project team engaged volunteer members of RCE Greater Atlanta (a UN Regional Centre of Expertise on Education for Sustainable Development). These participants prioritized several solutions as most likely to present significant equity challenges and opportunities: rooftop solar, mass transit, conservation agriculture, afforestation and silvopasture, and retrofitting. The Center for Sustainable Communities helped the team to expand the set of identified stakeholders for the solutions identified as equity priorities. The team then partnered with PSE and Taproot to engage with stakeholders, including experts in advancing the solutions, change agents working in related areas, and community members who would be impacted by solution implementation.
Identifying and Overcoming Barriers
The report’s findings highlight equity barriers associated with: solution awareness; affordability; wealth inequities affecting communities with the greatest energy burden; racial inequities in access to loans for capital investment; gaps in rural broadband and mobility infrastructure; misalignment between the requirements and processes of governmental programs and communities with the greatest need; and heirs’ property land tenure that reflects historic racial discrimination. Policy barriers were also identified, particularly with respect to scaling up solutions (such as solar and conservation agriculture) and institutional food procurement practices that make sourcing from small farms to institutions very difficult.
Stakeholders identified specific recommendations to address the noted barriers and to advance equity in carbon solution implementation. First, conducting public outreach can increase awareness of and engagement in carbon reduction activities throughout Georgia communities. Second, historically underrepresented communities should be included in all stages of research and implementation. A third recommendation is for the creation and support of a network, program, or set of resources that can serve as a source of expertise and clearinghouse on climate equity and climate policy solutions in Georgia. Shifting policy is the focus of the fourth recommendation (e.g., to increase net metering in support of residential solar). Fifth, commitments from corporate and academic institutions can help to advance equity in the implementation of carbon solutions through procurement, workforce development, research, and education. Other recommendations include engaging with transit organizations to expand access, investing in financial and technical assistance resources for under-resourced farmers and other rural organizations, advocating for investment in Urban Forestry Master Planning, and supporting the resolution of heirs’ property land tenure challenges.
By working with funders, businesses, nonprofit organizations, and academic institutions, there is an opportunity to support a more focused network of programs and activities centered in equity and climate change mitigation. By doing this, Georgia not only can achieve more equitable outcomes but also can increase the participation and scale needed to deploy the most promising carbon mitigation solutions. Beyond the local impact, the report can also provide insights to other states and organizations that aim to weave inclusion and equity into climate change solutions. A recently published Sustainable Business Insights research brief on the report offers a distilled version of the relevant sustainability challenges and opportunities for practitioners.
Drawdown Georgia is funded by the Ray C. Anderson Foundation.
Article written by the Ray C. Anderson Center for Sustainable Business