Aerial view of Punta Gorda, Florida
Punta Gorda, Florida Aerial view of residential neighborhood. © Carlton Ward, Jr.

Stories in Florida

Climate Leadership in Action

Adapting to a changing climate.

Impacts of climate change

Climate change is already beginning to transform life on Earth. Around the globe, seasons are shifting, temperatures are climbing and sea levels are rising. 

Since 1880, our changing climate has led to a global sea level rise of about 8 inches and recent research indicates that sea levels have been rising at a rate of 0.14 inches per years since the 1990’s. Sea level rise greatly increases the risk of flooding for coastal cities, and one of the primary impacts from climate change affecting our coastal cities and communities is more frequent storms that can cause increased damages to our growing infrastructure.

Miami Biscayne Bay
Biscayne Bay Miami is one of the most susceptible cities in Florida to the effects of climate change. © Josh Mahoney

Becoming Resilient

Climate resilience is the ability of a system to absorb stresses imposed by climate change and still function while adapting and becoming better prepared to handle future climate impacts.

Along the front lines of sea level rise and impacts of climate change near Miami’s famous beaches, the tenth annual Southeast Florida Regional Climate Leadership Summit played out in front of a room of more than 700 business, government, nonprofit and university climate thought leaders.

“The Florida Department of Environmental Protection just announced the funding of two coastal resilience demonstration projects in Miami that we helped to coordinate,” said Rod Braun, climate program manager and participant in the summit. “It’s a great example of so many groups coming together to move nature-based projects forward,” said Braun.

The Summit demonstrated that there is a clear business case for tackling climate change, and that it makes sense from an economic perspective. Momentum is increasing for local and regional support for climate initiatives.  Many regions in Florida are following the example of the Southeast Florida Climate Compact and are beginning to implement similar efforts tailored to their communities. Climate compacts and coalitions are currently in development for Tampa Bay and Southwest Florida counties. Collaborative efforts to tackle climate change will be strengthened as more of Florida dedicates resources to adaptation and mitigation strategies.

As the Conservancy and other climate leaders actively work to increase resiliency to current and future impacts, the focus is on managing threats to urban centers confronted with more frequent and intense storms, raised roads to combat flooding and a reduction of carbon emissions. Also on the agenda: supporting an increase in solar energy, encouraging the use of green infrastructure—trees and green rooftops—and championing affordable housing to reduce long commutes.

Faith-Based Climate Action

Climate change is inclusive – it touches all of us, across diverse cultures, political parties, locations, and faiths. Because faith-based communities have global reach and their messages are shared across languages, they are uniquely positioned to address challenges posed by climate change through both teaching and action. In his 2015 encyclical “Laudato Si: On Care for our Common Home,” Pope Francis identified climate change as a moral issue and called for “a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet. We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all.”  Similarly, Jewish teachings stress taking care of the planet and protecting natural resources for future generations. For Muslims, the Quran describes mankind as stewards of the earth, and calls on us to reflect upon how our actions impact the environment.   

In April 2019, a diverse group of religious leaders, sustainability-focused organizations, elected officials, and students joined together to discuss how communities of faith can and are taking action to address climate challenges, at The Second International Conference on Climate, Nature, and Society, hosted by TNC and St. Thomas University.

Addressing climate change requires education and collaborative action from individuals and their communities. Faith leaders are educating their congregations on the importance of respecting and protecting our environment.

Temperince Morgan Executive Director of The Nature Conservancy in Florida

Representatives from numerous faiths and respected institutions participated in the two-day forum, addressing the audience, engaging with panelists, and interacting with attendees. Practical, enthusiastic, and inspiring words from the presenters and panelists focused on different ways the warming climate affects our community today, the importance of protecting the earth from the perspective of different faiths, and efforts underway across South Florida and elsewhere to engage the community in action to address climate change.

Participants included local leaders as well as an expert on water and climate from the Vatican, the Archbishop of Miami, the Special Advisor on Climate Justice of the United Church of Christ, the senior Rabbi of Temple Solel, an Elder of the First Presbyterian Church, and many other religious leaders, as well as climate experts from the City of Miami Beach, Miami-Dade County, University of Miami’s Rosensteil School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, and Florida International University. St. Thomas University’s Professor of Biology and Bioethics, Reverend Alfred Cioffi, led the conference.

Faith leaders already work to educate their congregations and engage with the broader community through mission work, including deploying solar panels on sanctuaries and temples, creating community carbon funds to finance clean energy, and serving residents who are displaced by flooding streets and hurricanes. The conference provided an opportunity to look towards additional measures to engage faith based communities in climate solutions and addressing climate impacts.

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There are many steps we can take now that will make a difference to our collective future. Conservancy teams in Florida and across the world concentrate on climate issues in their day-to-day work. Partnering with the  Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact, The Nature Conservancy has led teams that to develop natural systems and agriculture strategies for the compact’s climate action plan. The plan will guide efforts for the years ahead and serve as a resource for local governments and others interested in reducing the causes of climate change, while adapting to some of the unavoidable consequences already impacting the region.

Climate Change South Florida program manager Chris Bergh explains how climate change and sea level rise are impacting the Florida Keys.