Groups believe UN report should spur Florida lawmakers to act

Florida has warmed more than 1 degree Celsius since the early 1900s and is shrinking by an inch a year, according to a 2016 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report

With sea levels estimated to rise 2.5 feet by 2050, up to 300,000 Florida homes and $145 billion in taxable property are forecast to be underwater. By 2100, sea levels along Florida’s 1,350-mile coastline could rise by 4 feet, according to the EPA.

Already, more than 1 million of Florida’s 6.2 million residential properties are at “substantial risk” of nontidal flooding with nearly $8 billion in diminished property values expected this year, property insurers said.

All that is an optimistic view, however, said 234 scientists from 66 nations in a 4,000-page report released Friday by the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Global climate scientists in the report document greenhouse gas accumulations are heating up, and sea levels are rising, more swiftly and dramatically than previously forecast.

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, who chairs the U.S. House Climate Crisis Committee, said it’s not too late for federal and Florida officials to take action and limit the effects of climate change.

In an Aug. 9 New York Times editorial,

Castor wrote Monday in a New York Times guest essay reducing carbon and methane emissions, and transitioning to a job-generating clean-energy economy, are steps outlined in the committee’s proposed Climate Crisis Action Plan.

“We’re already living with the devastating consequences of having warmed the planet more than 1°C. From the deadly heat domes in the Northwest to the harmful algal blooms killing the fish that we see washed up on the shores of Florida, humans have caused this problem. But we have the tools to fix it,” she wrote.

Under the plan, she said, Florida cities could implement clean-energy projects and the federal government would boost state investments in industries that convert homes and businesses to solar and wind power, making infrastructure more resilient.

Florida lawmakers have done little the past 20 years to address the unfolding crisis, Florida Conservation Voters, Earthjustice, Sierra Club of Florida, the Florida Climate Institute and other groups said.

“Time’s up,” Earthjustice Florida managing attorney Tania Galloni said. “Sea level rise is having major impacts in Florida that are accelerating. We can’t build our way out of this. Our state leaders keep talking about ‘adapting’ our way out of climate change, but the fact is we need to cut fossil fuel emissions. Florida has to stop living in the past.”

Florida has not adopted any statewide initiatives to convert to clean energy and halt the use of carbon-based fuels, the groups said.

In fact, during the 2021 legislative session, the Republican-controlled Legislature adopted House Bill 919, which preempts municipalities from restricting installation of natural gas lines in new construction.

The only measure Florida has adopted relating to climate change doesn’t address it, but assesses it.

Lawmakers adopted Senate Bill 178 in 2020. It was filed by former Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, D-Miami, and requires municipalities and state agencies to conduct sea level-impact studies to gauge flooding risks for the next 50 years.

Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, and Sen. Lori Berman, D-Boynton Beach, have filed bills during the past three sessions to encourage clean energy, phase out pollutants and install solar panels on schools. None received committee hearings.

Florida Climate Institute spokesperson Carolyn Cox told Florida Phoenix some damage can reduced if lawmakers act swiftly.

“We are facing some of the most severe consequences, which means we sort of have a chance in Florida to show people how to address climate change, or how not to,” Cox said. “This is about the human race. Our systems of survival are failing.”

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