South Florida mulls public-private partnerships for climate resilience

South Florida faces both immediate and long-term threats from climate change.

The impact of sea-level rise is already evident in the form of urban flooding during high tides and major storms; saltwater intrusion that endangers groundwater supplies and inland ecosystems; and coastal erosion that is compromising the very beaches that millions of tourists flock to each year.

The region’s low-lying geography makes both people and property extremely vulnerable: Miami–Dade County has more people living less than four feet (1.2 m) above sea level than any other U.S. state besides Louisiana, and nearly $40 billion worth of real estate is located less than three feet (0.9 m) above sea level, according to the World Resources Institute.

Miami’s beachfront property is valued at $14.7 billion alone, while the cost to upgrade public infrastructure—water, sewer, and wastewater treatment systems; utility grids; drainage systems; roads, bridges, and highways; schools; and hospitals—will be in the hundreds of millions to repair or replace.

Conversations are taking place among private developers, public sector leaders, nonprofit organizations, and academic institutions in south Florida on a shared, multifaceted approach to climate change.

There is some sort of social responsibility we have that may not be about returns, but about the welfare and health of everyone in our community,” said David Martin, president and cofounder of Terra Group.

How building resilient communities can be accomplished equitably was a concern for the entire panel. While the private sector will continue to seek long-term financial returns on its upfront investments in resilient building materials and design, Martin said that the private sector needs to be full partners in protecting everyone—particularly low-income and vulnerable populations—and not simply those who can afford to live in the most sustainable and resilient homes and neighborhoods.

Photo of Miami via Adobe Stock Photos.

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