Florida’s cities can’t fight climate change alone | Column
The mayors of Tampa, Miami and Orlando lay out a responsible way forward.
Rhonda Haag, Monroe County sustainability program manager, on Jan. 19, 2018, shows the height the roads will be raised under a new pilot program after Hurricane Irma flooded the area on Big Pine Key.
Rhonda Haag, Monroe County sustainability program manager, on Jan. 19, 2018, shows the height the roads will be raised under a new pilot program after Hurricane Irma flooded the area on Big Pine Key. [ CHARLES TRAINOR JR. | Miami Herald ]
Published Oct. 15, 2020

Florida cities are taking the lead on reducing carbon emissions and promoting clean energy to mitigate the impacts of climate change. This should come as no surprise given the outsized impact climate change is having on our communities — from rising sea levels that threaten our coastal cities and towns to an increase in the frequency and severity of hurricanes that can impact our entire state.

Tampa Mayor Jane Castor
Tampa Mayor Jane Castor [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

Hurricane season in the Atlantic is especially active this year. Two days into the season, Tropical Storm Cristobal broke the record for earliest named “C” storm. Then in quick succession, records for earliest “E” through “R” were shattered. The named storms have already blown through the Roman alphabet and are well into Greek letters. The latest one, Hurricane Delta, racked the Louisiana coast a few days ago. The potential danger to Florida’s coastline communities — and our entire state — cannot be overstated. Mega-storms, sea-level rise, and increased flooding are all tied to changes in climate.

We must lead boldly with smart solutions. As mayors of three of the four largest cities in Florida — Tampa, Miami and Orlando — we are each working to achieve reductions in carbon emissions by embracing the clean energy economy and enhanced energy efficiency standards. Various plans are underway in each of our cities to reach carbon neutrality.

In Miami, voters approved a $400 million Miami Forever Bond that underwrites investments in storm-resistant infrastructure and climate adaptive construction and zoning reforms. Tampa is developing a progressive Climate Action & Equity Plan. Orlando is aligning its Green Works program with the UN Global Sustainability Goals. Investing in these infrastructure projects isn’t cheap. But as the National Institute of Building Sciences tells us, every dollar spent on mitigation saves four on disaster recovery. We know that investing in coastal and inland resiliency programs now reduces the future impact of storms and flooding.

Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer
Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer [ Provided ]

There is tremendous work underway in each of our respective cities to find innovative solutions to the problems we face. However, that does not negate the fact that we need more action at the state and federal level to truly address this issue. That must begin with making the necessary investments to support robust clean energy infrastructure to reignite job creation in this vital sector.

According to a recent report, the clean energy workforce — which before the COVID-19 pandemic boasted an impressive 3.3 million workers — lost over half a million jobs since March. Florida’s clean energy workforce is still down nearly 16 percent compared to pre-COVID-19 levels. Yet, despite the immense potential of this economic sector to help us reach our carbon-reduction goals, there has been no action by Congress to create a post-pandemic economic plan that invests in clean energy.

It is time for that to change. Sen. Marco Rubio should be applauded for joining the Senate’s first bipartisan Climate Solutions Act, moving the narrative on reducing emissions away from partisan rhetoric. Representative Castor has become a national leader and voice on the issue, proposing a comprehensive plan to address the challenges associated with the climate change crisis.

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Miami Mayor Francis Suarez
Miami Mayor Francis Suarez [ Provided ]

Gov. Ron DeSantis, for his part, should be applauded for embracing the development of electric car infrastructure in the state and creating a new office dedicated to climate change and resiliency. Our state, and country for that matter, needs a comprehensive clean energy and climate mitigation plan that pulls elements of all these efforts together in a holistic way.

Given the annual threat to Florida, our citizens and the economy, we can no longer afford to allow this issue to be fractured across partisan lines. We must work as Floridians for Floridians to keep the beauty of Florida for everyone and forever.

Jane Castor, Francis Suarez and Buddy Dyer are the mayors, respectively of Tampa, Miami and Orlando.