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Developing home-grown solutions to reverse climate change

One of Georgia’s most plentiful assets might be a key to help the state combat global climate change.

The state is covered with trees—Georgia is almost 60% forested—and each tree has the ability to offset carbon that’s emitted into the atmosphere. But the amount of carbon, the cost of that sequestration, and potential for new jobs in rural parts of the state are all questions to be answered.

Which is where the research by Puneet Dwivedi and Jacqueline Mohan comes in. Dwivedi is an associate professor at the University of Georgia Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources where he focuses on forest sustainability sciences, and Mohan is an associate professor of terrestrial ecosystem ecology and biogeochemistry at UGA’s Odum School of Ecology. They are part of a consortium of researchers at Georgia’s top universities looking at ways the state can contribute to positive change simply by using the resources it already has.

The project, dubbed Drawdown Georgia, includes faculty from UGA, the Georgia Institute of Technology and Emory University. It’s inspired by the 2016 book “Project Drawdown,” which provides a set of plans to reverse climate change on a global level. The researchers, Dwivedi says, wanted to create a similar set of plans with a Georgia focus.

“Drawdown” refers to the point where greenhouse gasses reverse their current annual increases and instead begin to decline year over year.

“We wanted to see how much impact we can generate if we go for carbon neutrality here in Georgia,” he says. “And, I think forestry will be very important, because about 60% of our land is forestland. You cannot ignore forestry when it comes to taking care of Georgia’s carbon emissions.”

Globally, says Mohan, forests and other land-based ecosystems are the only “safe” way for nature to store excess atmospheric carbon dioxide.

“If carbon emissions do not go into land ecosystems—particularly forests—then they remain in the atmosphere exacerbating climate change or the carbon goes into the oceans causing ocean acidification,” she adds. “Our forests are truly our friends when it comes to climate, plus they provide essential habitat for biodiversity, filter pollutants from our water and air, etc.”

Georgia Tech is the lead institution on the project, which launched last summer with funding from the Ray C. Anderson Foundation. At UGA there are five researchers contributing solutions from their own areas of expertise: Marshall Shepherd of Franklin College is the primary investigator, while Dwivedi and Mohan are looking at landscapes and Sudhagar Mani and Jeffrey Mullen are investigating agricultural responses.

The team is hoping to have a report completed this spring.

For his part, Dwivedi is looking at ways an already plentiful resource can be leveraged for a greater positive benefit. First, he’s assessing the current amount of forestland and how it’s changed over time. Then, he’s determining the cost of storing carbon in an acre of forest stand across the various forest types found in the state, as well as the total amount of potential carbon storage in these areas.

From there, he’s assessing how land use has changed over time and, if those trends continue into the future, how that affects carbon storage capacity. Mohan is doing a similar assessment but with wetlands and peatlands, as well as forest protection and the relationship between carbon and soils.

By following the model of “Project Drawdown,” which offers a dollar value and a quantity to each global solution, the researchers are also aiming to provide cost-benefit analyses for their own projects. For Dwivedi, using forestland as a solution means he can also point to jobs created across the state by this resource.

If usage of wood products increases, says Dwivedi, the benefits are many and layered. Not only will the increased demand help spur new tree plantings and increase the value of forestlands, but it will also bring jobs to rural areas of the state.

Plus, it means more people are doing business with a sustainable product.

“If we start using more wood-based products, we are going to increase our base even more—which means more people will get decent jobs,” adds Dwivedi. “That will help with the green infrastructure, and we’ll be creating sustainable jobs especially in rural Georgia.”

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