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Global Change Program

Global Leaders Talk Solutions at Climate Action Symposium: “We are All-In on This”

By Selena Langner

People from 39 countries and 22 US states gathered this September to talk solutions at the third-annual Global Climate Action Symposium. From Argentina to Ghana to Turkey, climate scientists, policy makers, students, and community members pooled their collective expertise to work toward a more sustainable future.

The online Symposium brought together worldwide experts, who shared their diverse experiences and perspectives. Above, panelists Mario Cambardella (Atlanta GA, ServeScape), Nina Wolff (Germany, Slow Food Germany), Mark Zaharan (Switzerland, YASAI), and Sagdrina Jalal (Atlanta GA, Civic Atlanta), discuss sustainable urban farming, with moderator Sofia Bork (Atlanta GA, Truist).

“The Symposium is such a celebration of the partnerships across Atlanta and beyond that are advancing Sustainability by leaps and bounds”, says Kim Cobb, Director of the Global Change Program. “At the same time, it’s a stark reminder of scope of the challenges that lie before us. Now is the time to learn how each of us can work together to accelerate the transition to a just, low-carbon, and resilient world.”

“Having this conference in the heart of the Southeast is an opportunity,” said Ard van der Vorst at the opening of the Symposium. Van der Vorst represents the current EU presidency in the Southeast, and encouraged attendees to consider both global and local climate action opportunities.

An annual collaboration spearheaded by the Global Change Program alongside partners at the Center for Serve-Learn-Sustain, the Atlanta Global Studies Center, and six European Consulates in Atlanta (France, Germany, Belgium, the UK, the Netherlands, and Switzerland), the Symposium was held in a fully virtual format for the second consecutive year. As a result, the event attracted over 800 attendees from 39 different countries. The virtual event avoided the emissions of over 20 metric tonnes worth of CO2 from speaker’s travel alone, equivalent to the annual emissions from three cars. 

Throughout the three days, emphasis was placed on climate solutions that center equity and justice, with themes spanning Sustainable Food, Climate & Health, and the UN Ocean’s Decade. “Everyone is affected. Everyone will be affected,” said keynote speaker Laura Jung. Hope and opportunity were also key takeaways: Jung also noted in her keynote that while climate change is one of the biggest threats, it is also one of the biggest opportunities to redefine our current systems and approaches to be more sustainable and equitable while reaping tangible co-benefits to public health.

“Making sure that we are addressing the overall challenge of climate change and also the inequities within that is really important,” said Dr. Christina H. Fuller. “We’re behind, but it’s never too late to address these issues.” Keynote Alice Rolls, who spoke on Sustainable Food, agreed, noting rapid growth in organic farming in Georgia in recent years. “When I started at Georgia Organics in 2004, there were 9 farmers markets in Georgia,” she said. “Now there are over 150… Innovation at the local level is really inspiring. Climate change is daunting, but there is a lot of hope”.

Making sure that we are addressing the overall challenge of climate change and also the inequities within that is really important. We’re behind, but it’s never too late to address these issues.

Dr. Christina H. Fuller
Praana Ramparsad encourages youth involvement in ocean action during a lightning talk by Youth4OceanAction.

Lightning talks showcased climate action and voices from the broader community, from Atlanta cycling group Dope Pedalers, the West-Atlanta Watershed Alliance, and UrbanHeatATL to global collaborations like OceanVisions and Youth4OceanAction.  Students from around the world submitted original art, which was showcased during coffee breaks, and included original music, photography, multimedia pieces, drawing, painting, and audio-visual installations. Top art pieces are available to view on the event page

“The hope of my music is to contribute to the building of community and specifically to bring people together to work on climate change and resilience, one of the toughest issues that we will face in our lifetime,” says Dana Khan, an undergraduate at Emory University, who won first-place in the Undergraduate division of the contest, with a song she wrote to support her work as a Youth Ambassador with Partnership for Southern Equity.

Dana Khan, first-place Undergraduate winner of the climate art contest, performs her winning song, “Nothing Else Matters”, written to support her work as a Youth Ambassador with Partnership for Southern Equity.

Afternoon MasterClasses, led by global experts, were an opportunity to dive deeply into  topics. Concrete Jungle shared sustainable smoothie recipes; Dr. Celine Bon discussed archeology and heritage through the co-evolution of humans and environment; Dr. Fanny Douvere examined UNESCO World Heritage Marine sites, and Dr. Michel L’Hour led participants through his 40 years as an underwater archeologist, imparting the pressing need to preserve our marine heritage, and how a changing climate threatens it.

Hope and action were key threads during the Symposium. Here, Atlanta-area NGO Concrete Jungle shares sustainable smoothie recipes with audience members, showcasing local fruits and produce during an afternoon MasterClass: “Changing the Food System, one Smoothie at a Time”.

Concrete, actionable solutions were a focus of the Symposium, from keynote Alice Rolls reminding us all to “vote with your fork”, to keynote Dr. Dawn Wright, Science Director at ESRI, encouraging people to support and develop “the science we need for the ocean we want.” Dr. Wright’s sentiment, shared on the third and final day of the Symposium, echoed a chorus of speakers, consul generals, students, and non-profit leaders: “We are all-in on this,” she says.


All symposium materials are available online, at bit.ly/GCAS2021. Jump directly via these links: