Climate change is now

A man rides a scooter along State Road A1A in Fort Lauderdale after torrential rains flooded the thoroughfare.
A man rides a scooter along State Road A1A in Fort Lauderdale after torrential rains flooded the thoroughfare. SUN SENTINEL

World leaders came together at the United Nations last week to plan for climate change around the globe. Now it’s South Florida’s turn to get ready.

Starting Wednesday, Miami Beach — Ground Zero for rising-water issues — is the setting for the sixth annual Southeast Florida Regional Climate Leadership Summit. The two-day summit is put on by the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact, a partnership of Miami-Dade, Broward, Monroe and Palm Beach counties, and other stakeholders.

Their mission since 2009: To find solutions to fight climate change and rising waters in our region — together. And that unity is imperative.

South Florida hosts many events, but this year’s “Regions Connect — Global Effect” is one of the most relevant to our economic and environmental future. Climate change is one of the few topics where local governments forget jurisdictions and county lines and unite to deal with the effects of global warming. Here’s where Miami-Dade can tell Broward what’s working to control “king tides” that result in massive street flooding; Monroe can offer ideas on keeping back the ocean; and Palm Beach can share how it will protect waterfront condos.

No county can tackle this problem alone. Sharing knowledge, that’s the key — around the world, and in South Florida, too.

At the conference, the South Florida local brain trust assigned to fight the tide will exchange ideas at panel discussions. They include local activists and representatives from business interests, government agencies, oceanography, academia and the insurance industry.

Unfortunately, we live in a state where the governor is not sold on the idea of climate change, and therefore has ignored the obvious — and the need for action. Fortunately clear-eyed local leaders have stepped up: Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler and Broward Commissioner Kristin Jacobs, among them.

“We are excited to be co-hosting with Miami-Dade this year's Climate Change Leadership Summit,” Mayor Levine told the Editorial Board. “The summit brings together regional, national and international leaders to discuss pressing climate change issues and to develop solutions that can be applied both in Miami Beach and globally.”

Also leading the way is Miami-Dade Clerk of the Courts Harvey Ruvin, who headed the Miami-Dade Sea-Level Rise Task Force, which issued its findings and recommendations in July. “The overarching challenge is to secure a future that will be resilient to the threats of sea-level rise,” he wrote in an Other Views article in the Miami Herald last month.

Mr. Ruvin said South Florida needs “a robust capital plan...not just to update an old one.”

But even the task force concedes that its forecast of an increase of two feet of rising water in 50 years might be too conservative. “We must keep in mind that this is literally a moving target; sea level is no longer a constant, and as new scientific research becomes available, the projections of the future rate of rise will also change,” the report says.

But as scientific evidence mounts, Miami-Dade County’s timeline seems too far into the future. Speeding up preparations should be a topic of discussion at the summit. Timing is everything.

The climate superheros at the summit will work toward “advancing policy and catalyzing action locally and regionally, as well as connecting and collaborating with other communities throughout the nation and the world,” a summit press release promises.

The compact members should emerge from the Miami Beach Convention Center full of cohesive ideas on how to keep our region afloat — figuratively and literally.