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Miami Unveils Climate Plan to Defend Against Flooding, Heat (1)

Jan. 23, 2020, 1:01 PMUpdated: Jan. 23, 2020, 7:52 PM

Miami is focused on staying above water in the face of climate change, according to a new strategy that the city released Thursday.

The “Miami Forever Climate Ready” plan calls for measures such as updated seawall standards, waterfront design guidelines, and stormwater pump stations to deal with rising sea levels, changing storm patterns, and increasingly hot temperatures.

“Miami is one of the highest at-risk cities in the world to the impacts of climate change. We have to lead with our adaption and resilience strategy first,” Jane Gilbert, the city’s chief resilience officer, said in an interview. Efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will follow, she said.

Miami gets flooded as a result of rainfall, seasonal high tides, and hurricane storm surges. About one-third of its 88 miles of waterfront is city-owned. Some inland areas are also prone to flooding because of low elevation and a porous limestone base.

Climate change will make Miami hotter, and the heat will be more oppressive during prolonged power outages that can follow hurricanes, the city predicted. Warming ocean temperatures are expected to make hurricanes more intense. In addition, South Florida is expected to get 17 to 31 inches of sea level rise by 2060, according to the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact, which advises local governments on climate research and planning.

How to Adapt

The plan aims to update city policies to prioritize green infrastructure such as living shorelines—for example, wetlands, reefs, and man-made systems that mimic natural areas—to improve coastal protection, drainage, and water quality.

The plan’s initial phases also include mapping urban heat islands and planting trees there, or taking other measures to make them cooler. It also aims to improve infrastructure in flood-prone areas, in cooperation with neighboring municipalities and state and federal agencies.

The city also will set goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and develop policies for energy-efficient buildings and a transition to electric vehicles.

“We will also have a very ambitious strategy around carbon mitigation, but we can’t do the carbon mitigation if we don’t also address our adaption needs,” Gilbert said.

The city commission symbolically declared a climate emergency in November, urging state and federal officials to fast-track climate adaptation strategies and reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Miami has already committed to shoring up infrastructure against rising sea levels as part of a $400 million bond approved by voters in 2017.

The plan is a practical blueprint for city staff members and their community partners to follow as they go about dealing with the impact of climate change, Amy Clement, a professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, said. She also chairs the city’s Climate Resilience Committee, which participated in the plan’s development.

“It’s a road map for the next 10 years, guiding priorities and identifying areas where we need to invest, in terms of monitoring or research or infrastructure or human resources,” Clement said.

Data Gaps Remain

“It’s a plan to plan,” said Philip Stoddard, mayor of South Miami, a suburb that last year pledged to transition entirely to renewable energy by 2040.

But many other municipalities are at the same stage of figuring out what they can do by themselves and what they need help with, he said. Cities’ efforts to reduce their carbon footprints also largely depend on cooperation from public utilities.

While there is a lot of data available on the various impacts of climate change, gaps remain, Stoddard said. For example, no one is measuring how much methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, is coming out of area landfills, which complicates efforts to develop a comprehensive greenhouse gas inventory.

Even basic data on land use codes and vulnerability to flooding largely has been held by insurers and re-insurers, not cities, Kevin Grove, a professor in Florida International University’s Sea Level Solutions Center, said.

And when cities start looking at accessing that data and building resilience, just bringing in an expert on modeling isn’t enough. “You have to bring in stakeholders, and people who never talk together—people in housing, and sewers and building codes. That’s a challenge,” Grove said.

“We can manage the short term,” Stoddard said. “But what we don’t know yet is where and when we have to give up, and that’s important to know because how you make investments depends on those giving-up points and times.”

(Updates with link to city's plan and adds comments. )

To contact the reporter on this story: Jennifer Kay in Miami at jkay@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Gregory Henderson at ghenderson@bloombergenvironment.com; Renee Schoof at rschoof@bloombergenvironment.com

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