County and city officials from southeast Florida welcomed the release of the Third National Climate Assessment ("NCA") by the federal government earlier this month, noting the report's comprehensive assessment of the southeast United States and its strong emphasis on findings and predicted trends related to sea level rise, flooding, and saltwater contamination of drinking water wells, impacts already being felt in southeast Florida.
Representatives of the four-county Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact ("Compact") underscored the value of the National Climate Assessment to the region's existing efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to climate impacts.
Fort Lauderdale Mayor John P. "Jack" Seiler is optimistic that the comprehensive report will elevate the dialogue on climate change. "I am confident that the extensive research and key findings in the assessment will raise awareness about the need to proactively protect our communities against the growing impact of climate change," Seiler said. "Working together with our partners in the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact, we can plan today to meet the changing climate conditions of tomorrow and strengthen our community resilience to preserve the long-term livability, sustainability, and prosperity of our City."
"The National Climate Assessment confirms the trends we've already been seeing and adapting to," said Broward County Commissioner Kristin Jacobs, who has long championed climate issues and currently serves on President Obama's State, Local, and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience, which is developing recommendations for how the federal government can better aid the climate resilience efforts of local, state, and tribal governments. "Sea level rise, extreme heat, more intense storms, increased flooding, and saltwater contamination are not future problems in southeast Florida-they're here and they're affecting us now," Jacobs said.
"The NCA details the economic and public health risks of taking no action and illustrates the importance of investing in resilient infrastructure," said Dr. Jennifer Jurado, Director of the Broward County Natural Resources Planning and Management Division and member of the Compact Staff Steering Committee. She emphasized that the findings of the report underscore the importance of collective action to prevent the most severe possible impacts through sharp reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, which the NCA confirms as the leading cause of global climate change.
Nichole Hefty, Chief of the Office of Sustainability of Miami-Dade County, said, "The NCA stresses the importance of local action to address climate impacts. Miami is identified as one of the most vulnerable areas in the U.S. to climate impacts. The County is not only taking action within our borders through efforts like the Sea Level Rise Task Force, but also in concert with our other county and municipal partners. The NCA report confirms that our groundbreaking regional cooperation through the Compact is the right approach."
As Monroe County Administrator, Roman Gastesi is very familiar with the impacts of sea level rise on public infrastructure in the low-lying Florida Keys. He has overseen the redesign and retrofit of roadways and facilities to account for the increases in tidal flooding and future sea level rise. "The Keys are not only a special place home to nearly 80,000 residents, but an economic engine for the state of Florida and the nation," Gastesi said. "The NCA points out that sea level rise in the Keys and the Everglades could lead to billions in revenue losses from tourism over the next few decades. "These impacts are not just local to us here in southeast Florida," Gastesi noted. "Coastal shoreline counties across the U.S. are home to almost 40 percent of Americans and generate almost half of the nation's gross domestic product."
Farther north, Palm Beach County is already contending with unprecedented extreme storm events and sudden flooding. "The National Climate Assessment projects that these trends will only worsen. This isn't just a matter of inconvenient flooding and economic damage, but public health and safety as well," said Palm Beach County Assistant Administrator Jon Van Arnam.
The report also identifies vulnerabilities in the agricultural sector-a major concern for southeast Florida, where winter fruit and vegetable production has earned the region the title of "nation's winter breadbasket." Local officials understand that without action, agricultural production in the region will suffer from reduced yields, extreme droughts, new pests, and other impacts due to climate change.
The Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact is recognized multiple times in the Third National Climate Assessment as a model of effective regional action. Originally established by Palm Beach, Broward, Miami-Dade, and Monroe counties in 2010, the Compact brings together county and municipal governments and other stakeholders to address climate change in the four counties. In the years since, Compact partners have produced a unified sea level rise projection and other technical documents to aid planning efforts, as well as a 110-recommendation Regional Climate Action Plan for reducing local carbon emissions and building climate-resilient communities.
The Third National Climate Assessment, a summary of the effects of climate change on the United States to date and expected in the future, was produced by a team of over 300 of the nation's leading scientists, with significant review from the public, experts, and federal agencies.
Four experts from the region participated in the development and authorship of the report, including: Camille Coley, Associate Vice President for Research, Florida Atlantic University; Dr. Jayantha Obeysekera, Chief Modeler, South Florida Water Management District; Dr. Leonard Berry, Director, Florida Center for Environmental Studies, Florida Atlantic University; and James F. Murley, Executive Director, South Florida Regional Planning Council.
Key recommendations from the National Climate Assessment include collaborations across jurisdictions and regional down-scaling of global climate projects to support local planning initiatives.
Through the coordinated efforts of the Compact, southeast Florida is already very well-positioned as a region. The unified sea level rise projection developed by the Compact now serves as the basis for regional adaptation planning, and both Broward County and Miami-Dade County are advancing modeling efforts to support project planning and design.
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