This is an updated version of a blog post published at the Conversation by Karen Vella and William Butler. Both are associate professors at Queensland University of Technology and Florida State University, respectively.
Climate change adaptation in the USA is implemented at the local level where impacts are likely to be most acute. However, the ability to address climate change impacts are quite challenging in a fragmented governance context with dozens of local governments addressing the issue across a single country. We and our colleagues studied Florida’s regional efforts in 2015 and found its approach to be innovative, effective in creating a culture of adaptation and equally relevant to adapting to climate change today.
Over 5.5 million people live in Southeast Florida, predominantly along the coast, so the risks to coastal infrastructure from sea level rise are substantial. A three-foot rise in sea level would submerge more than a third of the region. To adapt to the effects of climate change, governments need to redirect development away from vulnerable locations and upgrade critical infrastructure such as roadways, water supply, wastewater and stormwater facilities to better withstand coastal flooding from sea-level rise.
In 2009, the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact brought together four counties (Broward, Miami-Dade, Monroe and Palm Beach) and 26 municipalities within those counties in a voluntary partnership that created Florida’s largest regional economy and most vulnerable cities. With limited federal and state government support for adapting to climate change, regional efforts through the compact have proved effective in negotiating support from other levels of government.
Though Florida has had limited success with regional planning approaches in the past, regionalism holds some promise to address shared risks, build a strong information base, coordinate policies, programs, and projects, and emphasize collective action rather than a competitive advantage.
The Compact: Thoughtful, yet limited, design
The compact has received notable political attention. President Obama regarded it as “one of the nation’s leading examples of regional-scale climate action” and has highlighted it as “a model not just for the country, but for the world.”
The compact works through steering committees. Steering committees bring professional staff together to build general agreements on recommendations about legislation policy and planning. The recommendations seek to inform comprehensive land-use plans, stormwater master plans, zoning ordinances, building codes and transportation standards and are implemented through county and municipal decision processes, budgets, local public involvement, enforcement, monitoring and review, and politics. State and federal government and the compact also host technical working groups. These groups share scientific data for emergency management and assess vulnerability to 1-, 2- and 3-foot sea-level rises. In this way the compact steers policy and encourages information sharing. It does not control resources or mandate action. Members are not bound to participate in decision-making processes or implement recommendations.
Template for other regions?
The coordinated structure means the regional body is able to lobby and achieve outcomes at other levels of government. For example, in 2010 the compact negotiated the creation of Adaptation Action Areas (AAAs) by the Florida Legislature, and in 2015 state statute Chapter 163 was amended to strengthen Florida’s Comprehensive Planning Law around flooding. Also, the Regional Climate Action Plan identifies priority areas for the region to lobby for federal resources, align state and local policy arrangements, and coordinate scientific data and new research. This sort of activity builds a narrative for more progressive climate change policies at state and federal level.
Since 2016, Tampa Bay, East Central, and Northeast Florida have all created new regional climate collaboratives that are to some degree loosely modeled on the SE Florida compact. They have obtained substantial local support and buy-in and are building regional climate action plans for other population centers in the state. Regionalism also received a boost in the 2021 Resilient Florida program - which has allocated up to $1 billion for coastal resilience projects. The program specifically allows regional collaboratives to apply for funding from the state to help develop strong adaptation plans, complete and update vulnerability assessments, and support local government adoption of climate change and resilience-focused policies, programs, and investments.
It seems that the Florida experiment in regional climate governance is expanding rapidly and gaining broad political acceptance. This provides a useful starting point for climate action. The collective weight of coordinated multiregional climate action could be just what’s needed to strengthen the lobbying power and direct resources for supportive climate policies at the federal level. We'll have the chance to really explore how transferable this regional model is and to what extent it can foster more attention to climate change impacts in some of the fastest growing regions in the country by continuing to follow the progress in these other collaboratives.
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