Buenos Aires, in its most literal translation, means “good air” – a fitting name C40 World Mayors Summit, which was hosted by the Argentine metropolis at the end of last month. The summit brought together global mayors, youth leaders and climate activists to share techniques to make cities greener and more resilient.
The effects of climate change will play out differently in each respective city, but leaders of the world’s major cities have come together to share strategies for addressing what is essentially a collective problem that requires joint efforts.
One of the metros represented was Miami. Although Florida is more than 4,000 miles away from Buenos Aires, it is dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Ian: a current example of the ways climate disasters are already affecting geographic livability and longevity.
During the conference, the Commercial Observer sat down with Daniella Levine Cava, mayor of Miami-Dade Countywhich, with a population of almost 3 million, has more people than 17 states. She spoke about sustainability in Miami-Dade – and the future of South Florida’s fast-growing region.
The following text has been edited for clarity.
Mayor Cava on preparing for Hurricane Ian and future storms:
We know hurricanes in Miami-Dade County. Clearly, Hurricane Andrew was behind us. But Hurricane Ian was a shakedown storm because it was headed straight for us. As always, we have been busy with preparations. I just created a new crisis management department.
Extraordinary events are hurricanes, but also floods and extreme weather. We know we are well prepared for the wind, but not so well prepared for the water. I think Ian was a testament to such a storm bringing such a large amount of water. We have areas that are vulnerable.
One of the things I focus on is the timely evacuation of vulnerable people. So we have a registry for people who need help. We want more of our shelters to be pet friendly because people often don’t evacuate for their pets. And we’ll also have a post-Ian action report to see exactly what we can learn from the Fort Myers experience.
On the extent of damage after Hurricane Ian:
Look, I went to Fort Myers Beach. And so I saw with my own eyes houses built high on stilts – they survived better than those on the ground or made of wood. It’s like the three little pigs: you build your house out of straw, wood or bricks. So it was very stark because you see houses and buildings that were relatively undamaged. They had hurricane windows, everything was OK. I’m sure there was damage, but not to the level of piled up ships and mobile homes that were there I assume before the code was hardened.
How to Preserve Miami-Dade’s Natural Features:
We have a big initiative with the Army Corps of Engineers. Probably the biggest project they’ve done will be to protect Miami-Dade and some of the associated cities from storm surge and flooding. They originally proposed to build a huge wall in the middle Biscayne Bay, which we rejected. We wanted to include more natural elements and we were able, with the current administration and the new assistant secretary, to get them to agree to start over and incorporate natural.
We just got another round of support from the Army Corps and also for our dunes and our beach restoration, which is a major conservation for us. We also protect the soil, so of course you have to have areas to absorb water. You don’t have to have all asphalt. All of these things are now part of our Building Code.
On the impact of climate disaster on Florida insurance policies:
So much of the redevelopment is driven by federal policy around flood insurance. If the federal government is willing to build again and again despite these risks, it’s pretty hard to change the market’s perception. That being said, we know we experience all sorts of things in Florida resets with insurance. This is very much a state function; the state controls the insurance industry. What we have done is that by building resiliently we can reduce our risk and have a lower flood insurance rate.
On heat waves in Miami-Dade:
We are very aggressive towards trees, their carbon absorption and shape. In fact, we have the most days of extreme, dangerous heat in the country. So we don’t necessarily have the highest temperatures, but we have the most days that are dangerously hot. And so we need to make sure we have laws that protect our workers and educate people about the dangers of heat.
On increasing the efficiency of the building:
We do a lot of building efficiency, but it’s not mandatory. It’s mandatory in New York. So it becomes a political issue. We have facilities and cool roofs for our region. We got Imagine a solar rating for those installing solar equipment. But our building efficiency— BE305 — is an incentive for buildings to audit, reduce their footprint.
On the future of Miami-Dade:
We’re looking at 2 feet of sea level rise in Miami-Dade by 2060. So it’s not that far into the future. And that without major weather events. So we will definitely be higher. We will be more water-based. There will be sacrificial infrastructure.
You see, people still want to be in our paradise. It’s a beautiful place. The weather is beautiful, except for the weather events. So I think the adaptation will continue. It will be expensive, but as my daughter told me many years ago, “Florida is a theme park and people will pay for it.”
It’s up to us to make sure we have the workforce as well. It does not work to build only for the rich. We have to build for the people to sustain the economy. It will look different, but I don’t think it will go away anytime soon.
Information from the C40 World Mayors Conference:
we’re open. We write down all the ideas to see what we can implement. This is a very specialized group of people. These are the people who are actually aggressively doing something about climate change. This is by no means universal. So I had the opportunity to hear some really creative ideas. We record many of them.
But there is also a lot of politics. I’m in a state where the governor is investing in flood mitigation and some resiliency efforts, but not yet saying climate change is man-made. So we are not like a state investing in carbon reduction or preventing construction along the coast. It is considered more episodic.
We definitely see our role on the world stage. And I think that’s also the very encouraging part about the C40; all these cities contribute beyond their footprint. But you know, where cities lead, nations don’t always follow, and so we have huge problems with disparities in countries that didn’t create the problem.
On creative climate solutions:
There are lots of creative technologies like electrification. But we need to create the environment to have the charging infrastructure, which I led. When it comes to solar, again, we have an industry in Florida that is not very receptive to rooftop solar. They basically want to own solar production. Last year, a bill was introduced that really undermined individual solar systems was vetoed.
Our electric buses don’t charge the grid, so we have to look into that. Bringing net-zero to our port. We’re hoping to get a big federal grant, a mega-grant, in this regard. We’re looking at things like on-road charging. In Israel, we learned about a technology that allows a vehicle to drive over the road where it charges. And we have the first one garbage truck for energy utilization of waste it is self-energizing. So that’s a creative thing, but our buses don’t do that. We need to look at it more as a circular economy.