Task force, sea level rise forecast coming
Written by Scott Blake on September 18, 2013
As a Miami-Dade County task force takes another look at the threat of rising sea levels and what South Florida can do to protect itself, a key member of the task force says the group must face the issue “honestly and fairly” without interference from special interests.
Meanwhile, county commissioners expanded on Tuesday the Miami-Dade Sea Level Rise Task Force by adding a seventh member – a Miami-Dade resident who will serve in a “community at-large” capacity.
The resolution was placed on the commission agenda by Chairwoman Rebeca Sosa, who initiated the original resolution that created the task force.
The task force already is to consist of one expert in civil engineering; an expert in community and real estate development; an expert in: climatology, geophysics, coastal management or oceanography; an expert in emergency management; an expert in economics; and Miami-Dade Clerk of Courts Harvey Ruvin, a former county commissioner who has been involved in efforts to study and combat the effects of climate change for more than 20 years.
In South Florida in particular, expected sea-level rise in coming decades could profoundly impact insurance rates, property values, the tax base, land availability, the beaches and tourism, and even transportation.
Mr. Ruvin said climate change is such an overriding issue of public importance that the task force members – a majority of whom will come from non-environmental fields – should deal with the issue “independently” from any industries and interest groups they represent.
“The commissioners are looking for individuals who will deal honestly and directly and independently with the issue and, in doing so, to look beyond the confines of their own special interests to make the interests of South Florida” as a whole their priority, Mr. Ruvin said in an interview this week with Miami Today.
Mr. Ruvin said the task force will be charged with developing recommendations to mitigate the effects of rising sea levels, which may include “a robust plan of capital improvements” involving seawalls, barricades, desalinization plants and other projects. County commissioners and the mayor would have final say on the outcome.
Mr. Ruvin said the task force is expected to be assembled and could begin its work before the end of the year – about the time a new international forecast for climate change and sea-level rise is scheduled to be released.
That forecast will come from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, an international organization for the assessment of climate change that won a Nobel Peace Prize in 2007. The panel was established by the United Nations Environment Programme and the World Meteorological Organization in 1988. Its mission statement is to “provide the world with a clear scientific view on the current state of knowledge in climate change and its potential environmental and socio-economic impacts.”
The panel’s last assessment report in 2007 stated it has “very high confidence” that coastal regions will be exposed to increasing risks, including coastal erosion, over coming decades due to climate change and sea-level rise.
The assessment predicted an accelerated rise in sea level of up to 0.6 meters, or 23.6 inches, or more by 2100; a further rise in sea surface temperatures by up to 3 degrees celsius; an intensification of tropical and extra-tropical cyclones; larger extreme waves and storm surges; altered precipitation/run-off; and ocean acidification.
“These phenomena will vary considerably at regional and local scales, but the impacts are virtually certain to be overwhelmingly negative,” the assessment states.
The next assessment due out soon, Mr. Ruvin said, is likely to predict a greater sea-level rise than the previous assessment. In addition, he noted, South Florida is known to be among the most vulnerable areas to sea-level rise.
Mr. Ruvin said Miami-Dade is known for being a leader among counties in addressing climate change. In 2006, officials formed the Miami-Dade County Climate Change Advisory Task Force – a group similar to the current task force that developed about 100 recommendations before disbanding in 2010.
He said officials previously established a goal to reduce Miami-Dade’s 1990 carbon emission levels by 20% by 2005. A follow-up, he said, estimated that local emissions had been reduced by 8% to 9% – far short of the goal. He also conceded that emissions are difficult to measure, saying “a lot of it is projections and guesswork.”
Regarding the previous recommendations, Mr. Ruvin said: “The county adopted it, but nothing substantial has taken place in recent years until recently.”
He applauded Commissioner Chairwoman Sosa for calling for the new task force “to revive the issue and take some ownership.”
While Miami-Dade has at least addressed climate change in the past, the US has not been known as a leader on the issue, despite being among the world’s largest producers of greenhouse gas emissions.
The US was the only industrialized nation not to ratify 1997’s Kyoto Protocol, a United Nations-driven international treaty for industrialized countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The main objections of US leaders have been that major population centers such as China and India were not required to participate in the treaty because they were not considered industrial powers at the time, while ratification by the US would do significant harm to the nation’s economy.
In 2011, however, leaders from around the world agreed to draft a new global emissions treaty by 2015. China, the US, and India – which rank as the three largest producers of greenhouse gases – pledged to join the new treaty, which would take effect in 2020. Negotiations for a new treaty continue.