The Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact was established by Palm Beach, Broward, Miami-Dade, and Monroe counties in 2010. The compact represents a new form of regional climate collaboration designed to allow local governments to set the agenda for adaptation while providing an efficient means for state and federal agencies to engage with technical assistance and support. The compact was a product of the first Southeast Florida Regional Climate Leadership Summit, held in October 2009.
The compact calls for the four counties to work cooperatively to:
- Develop annual legislative programs and jointly advocate for state and federal policies and funding.
- Develop regional technical tools to support planning efforts.
- Dedicate staff time and resources to create a Southeast Florida Regional Climate Action Plan to include mitigation and adaptation strategies.
- Meet annually in Regional Climate Leadership Summits to mark progress and identify emerging issues.
The compact is a unique, voluntary collaboration of elected officials and staff from the counties and cities who have agreed to work collaboratively on climate change mitigation and adaptation through policy and action. Staff Steering Committee members serve as liaisons to county and city staff. There are currently eleven committee members and four partner members: Institute for Sustainable Communities, South Florida Water Management District, The Nature Conservancy, and the South Florida Regional Council. The compact is widely recognized as one of the nation’s leading examples of regional-scale climate action.
With the support of a variety of local, regional, state and federal agencies (NOAA, USACE, USGS, and USEPA), the compact developed a technical foundation for regional climate issues, including a unified sea level rise projection, regional greenhouse gas inventory, and vulnerability analysis. These technical documents and the input of over 150 stakeholders led to the development of a Southeast Florida Regional Climate Action Plan (RCAP). Goals that stemmed from the RCAP include:
- Incorporation of climate change considerations into land use, transportation, and emergency management planning.
- Solar development.
- Climate change communications; incorporation of climate change into water supply plans.
- Adaptation Action Areas (see below).
ABOUT THE REGION
The compact’s region consists of the four most southeastern counties in Florida: Monroe (largest city: Key West); Miami-Dade (largest city: Miami); Broward (largest city: Fort Lauderdale); and Palm Beach (largest city: West Palm Beach). Population in the region is approximately 5.8 million full-time residents, with considerable part-time and seasonal populations. Planners estimate an additional 2 million full-time residents will move to the region by 2060. The region has 109 incorporated municipalities, a large population living in unincorporated areas, and a significant number of special districts.
With an extensive coastline, low elevation, and unique geology, southeast Florida is threatened more by climate change than almost any other region of the United States. Sea levels have already risen by nine inches during last 100 years, with further increases projected due to global sea level rise. The compact counties have agreed to use a projection of three to seven inches of sea level rise by 2030 and nine to 24 inches by 2060. Rising sea levels also raise the risk of more severe storm surges greater intrusion of saltwater into the Biscayne Aquifer, and damage to the unique Everglades ecosystem. Many coastal communities are already subject to “sunny day” flooding during high tide events, in which seawater overtops seawalls, pushes up through storm drains, and rises up through the ground.
Temperatures and heat indices are expected to increase significantly in the coming decades, threatening worker productivity, public health, and southeast Florida’s important agricultural sector (which supplies the entire East Coast of the US with winter vegetables, for example). Ocean acidification and algal blooms linked to climate change threaten the coral reef ecosystems of southeast Florida, which support sizable fishing and tourist economies.
PROMISING PRACTICES AND INNOVATIONS
Following the October 2009 Summit, the compact formed a Staff Steering Committee with representatives from each of the compact counties, as well as non-voting members from regional entities such as the South Florida Water Management District, South Florida Regional Planning Council, and the Nature Conservancy. Municipal members, representing a city from each county, were added to the Staff Steering Committee later in 2011 and have become an integral part of the compact process.
The compact counties adopt joint federal and state legislative programs each year. One notable success of this process was legislation adopted by the Florida Legislature in 2011 creating an optional “Adaptation Action Area” (AAA) comprehensive plan designation for areas uniquely vulnerable to climate impacts, including sea level rise, to serve as a planning tool and encourage technical assistance and funding opportunities. In 2013, the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity funded the South Florida Regional Planning Council, Broward County, and Fort Lauderdale to produce a local government guidebook, podcasts and a video based on the experience of the Compact partners using the AAA approach.
In August 2014, stakeholders from across southeast Florida joined Dutch, national, and local experts in a four-day “Resilient Redesign” workshop to develop resilient design concepts to guide planning and infrastructure investments in the region. Three locations, representing typical conditions within South Florida–dense urban, urban, and suburban development – were selected for study. At the end of the event, the local and international team of experts presented their conceptual designs for each location to local stakeholders. Although the proposals were highly innovative, the participants and stakeholders deemed them appropriate for our region (hydrologically, geologically, politically), and the group resolved to move the concepts forward.
THE CHALLENGES AHEAD
- Increasing participation by local governments:
- Efforts such as the Mayors’ Pledge to align municipalities with the compact and RCAP has had some success, but how to sustain and deepen involvement is a challenge, as is implementing the RCAP, increasing the focus of elected officials, and convincing stakeholders of the benefits of long-term planning.
- Additional challenges include political climate and turnover of elected officials.
- Better engaging the business community. There is comparatively little involvement at present from most of the business community, particularly the real-estate development and tourism industries which dominate the local economy.
- Keeping the compact relevant.
- Working more cooperatively with local universities who are also fighting for funding and often competing for the same grants.
- Addressing sea level rise issues and balancing property rights against the need to invest in resilient infrastructure and development.
- Effectively engaging the state and federal governments, particularly the legislative branch. Change in state policies can take place over a couple of legislative sessions, but funding is needed. At the federal level, what is possible, given the current political climate? What more can be done, besides lobbying?