Florida mayors seek solutions at world climate conference; state government reps absent

By: - November 5, 2021 1:49 pm

Neighborhood flooding in Fort Lauderdale after a rainstorm is an common occurrence. Credit: Jillian Cain/Getty Images, 2020

Three Florida mayors from cities feeling the consequences of climate change have traveled to Glasgow, Scotland, for the international climate conference where world leaders are trying to hammer out treaties to save the planet from overheating.

No state administration officials from Florida are known to be among the conferees at the summit called COP26, despite Florida being widely considered Ground Zero in the United States for suffering the earliest and most severe impacts of climate change.

Gov. Ron DeSantis’ spokeswoman, Christina Pushaw, wrote on Thursday, “I am not aware of any state official sent to COP26.”

However, Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, and Miami Mayor Francis Suarez joined municipal leaders from cities in the U.S. and from around the world to demonstrate their will to support climate action and their cities’ need for it.

Suarez and and Kriseman are among five mayors named to represent the U.S. Conference of Mayors, of which Suarez is vice president, at the United Nations’ 26th Convention of the Parties, or COP 26.

Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava (left) at COP 26 in Glasgow, Scotland, with Julieta Rodrigo, representing the CLEO Institute. Screenshot: CLEO Vimeo

The urgent mission of COP 26 is to nail down arrangements for nations around the world to reduce pollution in Earth’s atmosphere by 2030 such that global warming would not exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius (as compared with pre-industrial global temperature).

Currently, the planet is on track to hit at least 1.9 degrees of warming, say climate scientists at NASA and international science agencies from 65 other nations, with heating beyond 2 degrees projected to cause devastating and irreversible damage.

Climate action in place since COP 21 in Paris in 2015 has curbed emissions and slowed the warming trend but not nearly enough to cap it at 1.5 degrees, according to the Interagency Panel on Climate Change, a consortium of climate scientists from around the world, including the United States.

The Phoenix asked multiple times by phone and email since Monday whether DeSantis had dispatched anyone in his administration to attend the conference. The Phoenix also specifically asked whether Florida Chief Science Officer Mark Rains and/or Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Shawn Hamilton would attend at some point. DEP’s press office did not answer about Rains or Hamilton, and there was no indication they went to Glasgow.

Governors elsewhere attending the climate conference include New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, Hawaii Gov. David Ige, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, according to the Associated Press and other news reports.

As to state lawmakers in Florida, the Phoenix asked Florida House and Senate leaders by email if any legislators planned to attend the international conference. As of Friday, at the end of the first week of the two-week conference, the Senate and House press officers did not know of any making the trip.

Emily Gorman, director of Sierra Club Florida, said that while the stakes are high for Florida, she had heard of no engagement in the climate conference by state leadership in the executive and legislative branches.

“With so much at stake, it is heartening to see local leaders in Glasgow for COP26, and we hope that the State of Florida has sent representation as well,” Gorman wrote to the Phoenix. “Climate change poses a major threat to Florida with stronger storms, rising temperatures, declining access to fresh water, higher frequency of vector-borne illnesses, and increases in flooding and erosion. Of the top 25 U.S. cities most impacted by climate change and sea level rise, 12 are located in Florida.”

Florida mayors Suarez and Kriseman, along with Seattle Mayor Jenny Kurkan, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, New Orleans Mayor LeToya Cantrell, Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie, Burnsville, NM, Mayor Elizabeth Kautz and other U.S. mayors say their cities cannot rely on state and federal politicians to tackle climate change with the urgency it requires, because their citizens already are suffering from rising seas, excessive heat, wildfires and hurricanes at levels not seen before in history.

“We want the world to know that mayors’ commitment to this fight is stronger than ever. American cities are feeling the effects of climate change, and that’s why mayors have been drivers of climate solutions,” Suarez said in a statement released by the Conference of Mayors.

“I’m thrilled that this delegation of climate leaders will be able to share and learn with others at this critical moment for our planet. We must work at all levels of government if we are going to solve this problem, and the solutions that cities across America are putting in place must be part of a global approach. The United States will continue to lead on climate change thanks to America’s mayors, and we are pleased to be a part of this historic conference.”

Mayor Daniella Levine Cava was interviewed in Glasgow Tuesday by fellow Miami resident Julieta Rodrigo, with the CLEO Institute, a 501(c)(3) non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to climate crisis education and advocacy. The institute has offices in Miami, Orlando and Tallahassee. Click here to listen to the interview.

“My children and my two grandchildren are very much at the heart of what I do. We know that we’re leaving an Earth to them that is, really, on life support. It is on us to right the wrongs and restore sustainability to our planet,” the mayor said in the interview.

“We know now that there’s no time for playing around. Code Red has been established,” she continued. “For the 3 million people almost that I represent in Miami-Dade County, I’m here every day thinking about our collective future and what we can do.”

Levine Cava said too many branches of big government are propping up the status quo, which is leading the world toward self-destruction in approaching decades, leaving local governments and citizens to fend for themselves at home and in coalitions such as those participating in the global climate conference.

“This place is overwhelmingly exciting with possibilities,” Levine Cava said. “If we can harness this energy, we can save the planet. … We need disrupters in our civil world, and that’s what this is all about.”

Just before she departed for Glasgow, the mayor unveiled Miami’s Climate Action Strategy, a master plan to finance reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent by 2030, compared to 2019 emissions, and to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.

Keys of the master plan call for retrofitting and constructing ultra-low-energy buildings, cutting fuel consumption, expanding use of clean-energy sources such as solar, conserving more land and water in their natural states, reducing water consumption, and converting waste to energy.

“All of this is also good for the economy,” Levine Cava said. “I have been encouraged … learning about the business sector’s interest in saving the world. Once the biz community gets on board, then we can accelerate this change.

“We know that the business sector is on board for that, and we want to attract that kind of innovation to our community.”

Rodrigo asked Cava to discuss shortcomings in the plan summarized as the “emissions gap” – reflecting climate-action goals for which specific strategies are not yet in place.

“It is true that we don’t have all the answers,” Cava replied. “We need to look at our current [energy] providers, and we need to get them to agree to join us in this search. Without it, the world will not be on path to the 1.5 degree [limit on global warming]. We must have all the players. This is not an option. This is a requirement, this is a mandate.”

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Laura Cassels
Laura Cassels

Laura Cassels is a reporter, former statehouse bureau chief, and former city editor. She is a classical pianist, a Florida State University graduate and proud alum of the Florida Flambeau, an independent college newspaper.