Case Study: The Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change

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City of Fort Lauderdale, Broward County in Southeast FloridaIntroduction

The Southeast Florida Region consisting of Broward, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach and Monroe counties (regional governments) is considered one of the areas most vulnerable to major climate change impacts in the United States of America. These vulnerabilities are mainly associated with rising sea levels, due to the area’s flat topography, and low-lying and storm-prone Atlantic Ocean coastline.

In 2009, the four counties organised a Southeast Florida Regional Climate Leadership Summit, hosted by Broward County, for the purpose of bringing to a regional forum the discussion of climate vulnerabilities and planning needs, as well as opportunities. Leadership from the different counties realised the similarities in the vulnerabilities they faced and recognised that coordinated and collective action in response to climate change would yield better outcomes which would in turn best serve the citizens of the region. This resulted in representatives from each of the four counties signing The Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact and committing to take it back to their respective County Commissions for review and adoption.

The Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact

The Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact was officially formed just four months later, in January 2010, with joint adoption by the partner counties. The Compact commits Broward, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach and Monroe Counties to work collaboratively on climate mitigation and adaptation strategies; to partner in climate and energy policy advocacy; to develop uniform planning tools; to develop a Regional Climate Change Action Plan; and to host annual summits to review progress and discuss strategies. The Compact serves as a platform for the counties to gain support and technical expertise on climate change issues related to the Compact’s deliverables. It also aims to assist member counties with implementation through the development of templates, and regional hydrologic models that integrate climate scenarios, so that relevant and up-to-date information can be integrated into regional and local planning processes.

Implementation of the Compact

In order to implement the commitments of the Compact and to facilitate cooperation between the counties, a Staff Steering Committee was established. The Committee includes representatives from each of the Compact Counties, 109 cities of the region, and representatives from regional bodies that provide ongoing support and advice.  Some of the regional bodies include the South Florida Water Management District, South Florida Regional Planning Council, and, The Nature Conservancy – Florida Chapter.  Members of the Staff Steering Committee work closely with their respective governing bodies in order to gain approval for work identified through the committee.

From the beginning of 2010 the counties started to coordinate their mitigation and adaptation activities, pooled their resources together and began to work towards a unified action plan to reduce regional greenhouse gas emissions, and to build resilience in the face of climate change.

Achievements of the Compact to date

All of the initial commitments outlined by the Compact have been achieved. These include the development of a consolidated sea level rise projection for the region, a regional greenhouse gas inventory, the development of a regional climate action plan, joint policy statements, and the hosting of six annual summits.

In the last two years the Compact has worked hard in the following areas:

Regional Climate Action Plan Initiatives

A series of regional workshops have been held with municipalities from each of the four counties on specific initiatives covered in the regional climate action plan. Areas of focus for the workshops have included the strategies for advancing community solar projects; the integration of climate change into water supply planning with the provision of template narrative, goals, objectives and policies for water supply planning documents and associate comprehensive plans; “Adaptation Action Areas” as a planning tool for community resilience; climate communications; and others.

Revision of sea-level rise projections

A unified sea level rise projection for the region was highlighted early on as crucial in responding to changing climatic conditions. Since this development, new research has been conducted in the form of the IPCC’s 5th Assessment Report and the Third National Climate Assessment for the United States. The Compact’s Sea-Level Rise Working Group has reconvened to discuss the implications of this new information to the region’s projections.

Other targeted interventions

The Compact has also recently focused on a number of additional targeted interventions including the development of a public health assessment focused on climate change impacts as well as the convening of a “Shoreline Resilience Work Group” charged with developing a coordinated approach for the expanded integration of natural infrastructure and living shorelines in the counties climate resiliency strategies.

Awareness and capacity building

The Compact has also made progress on a number of non-quantifiable elements, such as successfully increasing awareness among communities, building capacity among County staff members, and implementing the planning tools into local planning codes.

Key lessons learnt

Dr. Jennifer Jurado, Director of the Environmental Planning and Community Resilience Division in Broward County and Susanne Torriente, Assistant City Manager of Fort Lauderdale who have both been key players in the development and implementation of the South East Florida Regional Climate Change Compact highlighted the following key lessons learnt in establishing the Compact:

Demonstrate respect for the different processes that counties/local governments run

One of the key lessons recorded was that it is important to respect the different processes that the member counties/ local governments follow and that even though this may result in some delays it is worthwhile as the process will be endorsed by the respective county/local government. Jurado elaborates,

“Respecting each other’s processes has been important. Our communities, our agencies, they all look and feel a bit different.  We have to respect these differences and not demand uniformity. It took more than a year for the regional action plan to be adopted by all four counties, but the process was important, the municipal outreach that was employed, and the outcome being one of enthusiastic endorsement.”

Start small and understand that counties are all at different stages

At the outset of the development of a Compact it is important to start small and slowly, and understand that different counties will have different levels of understanding and be at different planning stages. Torriente explains,

“Another challenge at first when each staff came together was that we were all at different levels of planning and understanding. Broward is and always has been the natural leader on the forefront. The other counties had to play catch-up.”

Work with existing local government governing bodies

Although a steering committee was set up at the start of the Compact, the Compact realised the importance of working together with the existing county governing bodies so that the implementation of the Compact’s objectives would be realised. Torriente explains:

“We knew we had to each go back to our own governing bodies for authority to work.  We did not want to create a new governing body. That approach also worked because we didn’t take authority away from any entity.”

Work on maintaining strong communication lines  

Communication was highlighted as a key element in the success of the Compact and the importance of providing enough opportunities for informal conversation and relationship building was raised.

This is what has held the compact together, even as we experienced transitions in leadership,” explains Jurado.

Replication of the model- The Central KwaZulu-Natal Climate Change Compact

Inspired by the South East Florida Regional Climate Change Compact, the eThekwini Municipality, a local government based in Durban South Africa, initiated its own compact with its neighbouring municipalities in February 2014.  The Central KwaZulu-Natal Climate Change Compact (CKZNCCC) aims to facilitate information sharing and collaboration on climate change adaptation and to develop a coordinated regional response to climate change. Thus far, all of the neighbouring local governments to the eThekwini Municipality have agreed to be a part of the CKZNCCC and are in the process of gaining approval from their respective councils. One of the first areas that the compact is working on is to develop a knowledge network where all of the member local governments can access information and resources on climate change in order for them to be better able to make informed decisions. Susanne Torriente from Fort Lauderdale is excited about the development of the CKZNCCC and comments on the replicability of the South East Florida Regional Climate Change Compact:

“The CKZNCCC demonstrates that the South East Florida Compact model can be replicated but should be developed taking into account the local context … [and] tailored to the nuances of your own community and its politics.  Know your area and build upon what works there.”

The success of the Compact model was further demonstrated when in November 2014, through a City-Links Partnership between Durban and Dar es Salaam, in Tanzania, Tanzanian local government leaders also committed to establishing climate change committees in each of their respective local governments, and for these committees to organise into regional compact partnerships. These compacts will focus on advancing climate change adaptation and drafting climate change resolutions, which will be led and coordinated through the Association of Local Authority of Tanzania (ALAT). This surely displays the replicability of the South East Florida Regional Climate Change Compact structure and the advantages of partnerships.

The South East Florida Regional Climate Change Compact’s way forward

Commenting on the way forward for the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact, Jurado explains that the Compact has reached the stage where a more formalised structure may be beneficial and allow for expanded engagement and learning between the counties and other partners.

“We have reached a juncture where a more formal structure may be necessary. We are exploring this idea, along with how to formally expand the partnerships with the municipalities throughout the region, to improve the regular exchange of information and the resources that can be brought to the region,” says Jurado.

Thus far the Compact has focused on broad level planning, but going forward the Compact will be working closely with municipalities and other local partners to focus on local level planning initiatives.

In addition, Jurado explains that although the Compact has focused more on adaptation efforts, that going forward the Compact will also incorporate mitigation interventions into their efforts,

“…much of the conversation has focused on adaption, but we are keenly aware of the need to achieve similar traction with respect to emissions, including energy conservation, efficiency and renewable energy investments. We are working at all levels and employing all tools, including plans for changes to local building code, incentives, coordination with energy utility and state planning processes. But to be successful, we really need to tackle transportation as well.”

The Compact will continue to practice sound reporting and strengthen the partnerships that exist between its members, “Tracking, reporting, challenging ourselves, and maintaining our position at the forefront of issues with continued expansion of collaborations both regionally and internationally – these are all priorities for the Compact as we continue our efforts”, adds Jurado.

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