There are three primary ways that climate change influences coastal flooding: sea-level rise, storm surge intensity, and rainfall intensity and frequency.
Florida leaders are taking note of these mounting threats to our natural resources, as well as our economy, and taking steps to address them.
Florida has a challenging road ahead mitigating the impacts of the COVID-19 fiscal crisis, which state economists expect will reduce government revenues by billions of dollars over the next few years.
Mounting data shows that extreme weather events driven by climate change are becoming increasingly costly and destructive, making the pandemic, the recession and other challenges harder for states and communities to fight.
But the fight is a necessary one — we cannot fully rebuild Florida’s COVID-battered economy until we act to address the cause of this rising threat.
The costs of inaction are staggering. FEMA’s new preliminary flood insurance rate maps are projected to impact real estate with at-risk houses expected to lose 15% to 35% of their value by 2050.
Florida’s insurance carriers are requesting 26% to 34% rate increases, citing skyrocketing losses from hurricane and coastal flooding. That means the average homeowner could be on the hook for a nearly $700 increase on their annual property insurance bills.
With 1,350 miles of coastline and relatively low elevations, Florida is particularly vulnerable to coastal flooding. The areas of the state most at risk from sea-level rise include the 35 coastal counties that are home to 16 million Floridians — about three-quarters of the state’s population.
If flooding doesn’t put property owners underwater literally, a precipitous drop in property values could do so financially. Recent analyses estimate that one million Floridians could lose over $300 billion in property value by 2100.
According to a 2018 Florida Division of Risk Management report, there are three primary ways that climate change influences coastal flooding: sea-level rise, storm surge intensity, and rainfall intensity and frequency.
A primer on the effects of climate change: As rising temperatures heat our oceans, glaciers and polar ice sheets melt and sea levels rise.
Rising sea levels, in turn, reach further inland and result in more severe damage to coastal communities, landward expansion of flood zones, beach and wetland erosion, and saltwater intrusion into coastal aquifers, rivers and streams.
As stated in the Division of Risk Management report, over half of Florida’s major disaster declarations stem from extreme weather events such as tropical storms, floods and tornadoes. Add hurricanes to that, and the number jumps to almost 90%.
Florida leaders have started taking action.
In January 2019, Gov. Ron DeSantis issued Executive Order 19-12, creating the Office of Resilience and Coastal Protection to help prepare Florida’s coastal communities and habitats for the impacts of sea-level rise by providing funding, technical assistance, and coordination among state, regional, and local entities.
To limit the impacts from flooding and wave action, legislation passed unanimously earlier this year — SB 178/HB 579, sponsored by Democratic Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez and Republican Rep. Vance Aloupis, respectively — will require pre-construction sea level impact studies of state-financed coastal structures beginning next year. The Legislature also appropriated $10 million for community resilience grants.
In addition to other state and local government initiatives, in September the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) allocated $2.3 million to help coastal cities and counties improve their resiliency planning and prepare for rising sea levels, including coastal flooding, erosion and ecosystem changes.
“Florida continues to lead the nation in resiliency and preparedness,” said Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Noah Valenstein. “These grants help balance the needs of our resources while protecting residents’ homes and livelihoods in coastal communities.”
There is little debate that mitigating sea-level rise caused by extreme weather events is in our collective interest. We also have an opportunity to lead on energy innovation and employ a diverse workforce in high-quality renewable energy jobs, revamp stormwater management and modify guidelines for development along our coasts to make communities more resilient to the intense storm systems that have been battering them.
Although some local governments and state agencies have adopted sea-level rise estimates for planning purposes, Florida has no officially established estimates of projected sea-level rise that state agencies can use when developing, planning, and carrying out their respective duties.
Doing so would help us better assess risk and ensure that natural systems, economies and communities are resilient in the face of the devastating impacts that are already here and will intensify in the future.
We must support leaders who understand these issues and are prepared to respond to them. And we must establish a permanent Office of Resiliency and Coastal Protection in Florida law. Proactively helping people and nature be more resilient could dramatically reduce the damages and costs of climate change.
Our homes, our livelihoods and our economy depend on it.