Georgia impacted by Paris climate deal

Updated Dec 14, 2015

Last week’s historic agreement in Paris to curtail the earth’s warming could have a dramatic impact on Georgia, particularly on coastal communities already at risk of rising sea levels.

If the dire predictions of state, federal and university scientists prove true, then billions of dollars of property in Brunswick, Darien, St. Marys and Savannah and on the islands of St. Simons, Sea and Tybee will be under water within a century.

Georgia, per federal mandates, must cut carbon emissions from its power plants by one-fourth over the next 15 years.

The state must also factor a warming climate into its conservation plans. A division of the Department of Natural Resources recently reported that “climate change presents unprecedented challenges.”

Many coastal Georgia officials, Republicans and Democrats alike, take rising seas — a dramatic, tangible effect of a warming climate — to heart. Huge tidal surges, flooded roads and newly dead oak trees along increasingly brackish waterways are tell-tale signs of rising seas.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts that a 3-foot rise in sea level — expected by 2110 — would inundate St. Marys’ historic district, for example.

“Georgia, ironically enough, is ahead of the curve in being pro-active in planning for climate change, especially with sea level rise issues affecting coastal communities,” Paul Wolff, a Tybee City councilman and environmentalist, said Monday. “It would be a huge benefit if the federal government implements programs, either technical support or funding for cities and counties to develop long-range climate adaptation plans.”

Georgia, nonetheless, joined more than two dozen other states in October suing the White House over the president’s push for a reduction in carbon emissions.

Summiteers from 195 nations agreed Saturday to limit global warming to 2 degrees or less by 2100 compared to pre-industrial levels.

“I hope this agreement helps local governments make their communities more resilient by developing specific goals to protect against coastal flooding, more severe and frequent storms and all the impacts of climate change that will be hitting us,” said Wolff, who chairs the state’s coastal advisory council which helps steer public money to coastal projects.