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Can you solve climate change without the business community? South Florida says no

Broward County Mayor Beam Furr symbolically signs the Southeast Florida Climate Compact agreement on Thursday, Dec. 14 to collaborate with the business community of the region to research, lobby for and enact solutions to climate change.
Broward County Mayor Beam Furr symbolically signs the Southeast Florida Climate Compact agreement on Thursday, Dec. 14 to collaborate with the business community of the region to research, lobby for and enact solutions to climate change. aharris@miamiherald.com

As South Florida’s coastlines creep ever inward with no major action from the federal or state level, the regional group running climate change policy in southeast Florida is trying to get things done by joining forces with the business community.

Local leaders from the counties along the coast most vulnerable to sea level rise have worked together since 2012 to share research and case studies on the imminent threat of climate change in a group called the Southeast Florida Climate Change Compact. This year, at their ninth annual conference, the compact moved beyond pumps to keeps streets dry and talked about a new kind of resilience — economic.

If the predicted changes — higher temperatures, rising seas and stronger storms — are left unchecked, it could have serious consequences for Florida’s financial future. Particularly in a state that’s dependent on the tourism industry that studs its shores.

“Business understands that they will be affected if fewer people come to Florida because our beaches lose the international reputation,” U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz told the crowd of around 700. “We can’t stick our heads in the ever-eroding sands.”

In this new agreement, the economic development community of southeast Florida will work with the compact to market the financial case for resilience. This could, they hope, turn the region into a hub for innovation and economic activity related to keeping South Floridians above sea level.

Buildings that withstand hurricane-force winds, stay above the water level decades down the road and cut costs by saving energy are a worthy way to protect an investment, business leaders argued.

“It makes sense. It makes economic sense,” said Alan Ojeda, owner and chief executive officer of real estate company Rilea Group. His firm built one of the first office buildings in Miami certified Gold by LEED, an environmental rating system. The building filled up faster than any of its neighbors, he said.

“When you put the champagne glasses on top of the others and you pour and it fills all of them? That’s what happened,” he said. “Everyone wanted to be in a green building.”

That extra money from the private sector is important in a state led by politicians who have not made adapting to climate change a priority. With the money and influence of the business community behind them, compact leaders hope their voice will be louder in Tallahassee and they’ll see more accomplishments.

In the last several years, the compact, which covers Monroe, Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties, has most notably created a unified prediction for sea-level rise in the region and a five-year plan to address the consequences of climate change. The plan includes dozens of nonbinding suggestions for how cities or counties can take positive steps toward a more resilient future.

On Thursday, the group presented its second five-year plan, called the Regional Climate Action Plan or RCAP 2.0. Besides looping in businesses, the new plan includes a heightened focus on public health and community equity.

The pivot seemed to be a turn to reality — the real effects of these proposed solutions on the communities and the real ways to get them funded. For the latter, leaders see the business community as part of the solution.

“You’re starting to see, in everything we deal with, now this has become part of the conversation, and it wasn’t part of the conversation before,” said Broward County Mayor Beam Furr. “That is a major step forward.”

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