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Lessons from Florida: How Local Adaptation Efforts Can Complement National Climate Action

This post is written by Bill Richardson, former Governor of New Mexico and current WRI Board Member. It originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

As I prepare to take part in an event on hurricanes and extreme weather in Miami, Florida later today, it’s clear just how much climate change threatens the state’s local communities. Florida is the most vulnerable U.S. state to sea-level rise, with seas projected to rise along the state’s coast by as much as 2 feet by 2060--threatening valuable infrastructure, homes, and communities. Even Superstorm Sandy--which had the greatest impacts in New York and New Jersey--caused significant damages along Florida’s east coast while centered miles offshore. Rising seas contributed to Sandy’s storm surge and tidal surges, causing flooding throughout Miami-Dade County and sweeping away portions of State Road A1A in Fort Lauderdale.

But as overly concerned as I am of the climate change impacts Florida faces, I’m also encouraged. Florida has something that few other states have: A bipartisan collaboration to address global warming’s disastrous impacts.

The Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact is a bipartisan initiative where local governments from four major counties – with a combined population of 5.6 million – are developing and implementing comprehensive measures to address climate impacts like sea-level rise. Local efforts like the Compact, being undertaken by those dealing with the impacts of climate change on a daily basis, provide a powerful example of adaptation and building community resiliency. These types of initiatives can not only inspire action in other communities, regions, and states, they can help guide and complement climate action at the national level.

A Growing Sense of Urgency

The carbon pollution we continue pumping into the atmosphere is already causing our air and oceans to warm, glaciers and ice sheets to melt, and sea levels to rise at alarming rates. Increasingly warming oceans and melting ice are yielding rising sea levels that not only provide a springboard for storm surge to reach further inland, but also fuel hurricanes like Sandy with additional energy – threatening more of our coastal communities.

Regarded as by far the most vulnerable state to sea-level rise, Florida is also home to the most vulnerable city to sea-level rise in the United States--Miami. By choosing to stay on our carbon-intensive path, seas will only continue rising, further increasing the vulnerability of cities like Miami to costly damages associated with extreme weather and sea-level rise.

Indeed, no longer is there a question as to whether our greenhouse gas emissions are causing costly climate change impacts. The scientific evidence answers that question with a clear “yes.” Since 2011, the United States has experienced 25 extreme weather events that each caused more than $1 billion in damages. These events contributed to the loss of more than 1,000 lives and each American family paying $400 more per year.

Action at the Local, State, and National Levels

As the impacts of sea-level rise and extreme weather make evident, Florida is at the frontlines of climate change. But just as evident this week was that the state is also at the frontlines of climate action. The Compact represents four counties coming together in a bipartisan manner to develop and implement 110 action items. It has the potential to both help local communities and inspire similar action in other regions of the country.

The importance and urgency of developing models of success--like Florida’s Southeast Regional Compact--cannot be overstated. But it’s also crucial that these initiatives support action at the national level.

On the federal end, President Obama recently announced a national Climate Action Plan. It’s imperative that the Administration moves forward with this ambitious plan--in particular, setting stringent emissions standards for both new and existing power plants. Reducing power sector emissions represent the single greatest opportunity for setting the country on a path to meet its target of reducing emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020.

Preventing the full breadth of U.S. climate change risks--from sea-level rise and extreme weather and climate events--will require action at all levels. Everyone from local counties in Florida to the federal government has a critical role to play.

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