The pandemic has highlighted the alarming urgency of climate change and the need to actively protect the environment by revealing that despite high-tech development, humans are powerless to respond quickly to new challenges and diseases brought on by the power of nature.
The UNDP Accelerator Lab in Georgia (AccLab Georgia) chose the challenges of climate change as one of its goals because Georgia is facing obvious, severe negative impacts of climate change. Further, addressing climate change is one of 17 Sustainable Development Goals that the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) will address over the next 10 years.
Climate change and environmental protection are priority issues in Georgia, which has been beset by climate change impacts and ecological destruction. Rapidly melting glaciers and destructive landslides have already caused devastating flooding — the 2015 Tbilisi flood took 20 lives — that will only grow in severity. Newly active landslides caused by massive and unplanned construction in Tbilisi threaten several districts and thousands of citizens. Thousands of acres of forests have been burned as a result of fires. There is also one of the urgent problems of air pollution in the capital, an area that also has very high CO2 emissions.
Awareness of climate change is very high in Georgia. In a recent study, 97 per cent of respondents had heard about climate change. 91 per cent thought that climate change is real and poses threats to humanity. The majority of respondents (60 per cent) thought that climate change is more important than international terrorism or armed conflicts.
Climate change and environmental protection concerns are inherent to the construction of the Namakhvani Hydro Power Plant. Thousands of people protested the large-scale construction and related environmental damage. Among other impacts, opponents raised the issue of protecting the unique and delicate Rioni Valley, which has a high potential for both tourism and wine production.
However, the issue is quite delicate: the country needs energy independence and additional generating capacity to meet growing demands for electricity.
Georgia’s energy sector is responsible for 60 per cent of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. Sources include fossil fuel combustion and volatile emissions from coal, oil and gas extraction, processing, transportation and use.
According to the 2020-2030 energy strategy, Georgia has the opportunity to increase the proportion of energy it obtains from hydro, wind, solar and other renewable energy sources. Doing so will reduce the amount of electricity it needs to generate in thermal power plants and will increase energy independence by decreasing the amount of energy the country needs to import.
A mini-survey revealed that participants at the UNDP AccLab Georgia presentation event in March of 2021 considered air pollution to be one of the most important challenges the country faces. An April workshop discussed and identified areas in which AccLab Georgia could contribute to finding solutions to this problem.
The COVID-19 pandemic seized time and stopped the industrial sector; it also gave the Earth a chance to breathe. During the lockdown, when even the transportation industry was stopped, air quality vastly improved — not only did smog disappear, but also the sky was so clear that you could see one of the highest and most beautiful volcano peaks in Georgia from the capital (almost 180 KM away!). Such concrete experiences make people more aware of how we damage our habitat every day.
Climate experts warn that we have only 10 years left to keep global temperature rise under 1.5 degrees Celsius. Even half a degree beyond that will significantly worsen the risk of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people. Climate changes are usually not recognized until it is too late, and the damage cannot be reversed (or will be extremely difficult or costly to reverse).
Despite the high awareness of climate change impacts, many sectors, from agriculture to industry, and the population at large are insufficiently aware of how their behavior impacts the environment — or how they could become more eco-friendly and protect the country’s environment.
As an AccLab Georgia explorer, I think the Lab can make excellent contributions to closing this gap. AccLab Georgia can devote resources to clearly explaining the issue and to giving people easily observable examples of how they impact the environment. This could lead to environmentally beneficial behavioral changes such as decreased use of polyethylene bags, increased recycling habits and minimized post-harvest, pollution-causing field burning in rural areas.