Former UN Leader Ban Ki-moon Praises Miami's Response To Rising Seas

Feb 19, 2019

A global conference on climate change resilience in Miami on Tuesday highlighted the city’s efforts to respond to sea level rise and other extreme weather events.  

Led by former United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, representatives from the Global Commission on Adaptation toured the city’s flood prevention projects and met with Miami’s climate resilience leaders. Ban praised the city’s work to address sea level rise, saying Miami is a model for other places around the world under threat from climate change.

“If we do not take action appropriately, 800 million people in the world alongside the coastal area will be seriously affected,” Ban said after participating in a panel discussion. “Therefore like Miami has been doing, try to invest wisely.”

Miami Mayor Francis Suarez is the only U.S. mayor on the Global Commission on Adaptation, which aims to promote sustainability and resilience. The commission—overseen by Ban, Bill Gates and World Bank CEO Kristalina Georgieva—seeks to use Miami to show how climate change adaptation is worth the cost.

Ban toured two Miami pump stations and viewed a sea wall with Suarez and other city officials.

A main focus during discussions during the summit was Miami’s recently-launched $400 million Forever Bond initiative aimed in part on quelling street flooding. Redeveloping flood prone Brickell Bay Drive and Jose Marti Park along the Miami River and installing new street drainage valves are among planned projects.

Miami is also implementing a separate stormwater master plan to upgrade the city’s drainage pumps and pipes.

Suarez told conference attendees that damage caused by Hurricane Irma was instrumental in persuading voters to support the Forever Bond in 2017. He said the storm made people appreciate the potential return on the investment of the bond.

The bond is now part of the city’s goal of becoming the most resilient in the country. Suarez said it could help keep flood insurance premiums lower. The goal is to prevent what he called a “canary in the coal mine” scenario that could have a "catastrophic economic impact"—insurance companies pulling out of Miami if they determine that the threat of sea-level rise is too great.

The conference underscored the increasingly active stance on climate change Suarez has taken since his election in 2017. He said on Tuesday that aggressive action is key to convincing residents, investors and insurance companies that Miami can withstand the rising seas.

In addition to its involvement with the Global Commission on Adaptation, Miami has joined Miami Beach and Miami-Dade County as part of the 100 Resilient Cities collaboration. The group aims to agree on and implement new resilience policies.

“I have a son and a daughter, and I want to make sure that Miami is here forever. I want to make sure that Miami is here for their grandchildren and for their grandchildren’s grandchildren,” Suarez said.

Still, Ban said Miami’s resilience projects will not be enough to address climate change. The city’s future will remain precarious as long as carbon emissions continue and global temperatures rise more than 2 degrees Celcius.

He singled out President Donald Trump for his open rejection of climate change. He said the world’s future must include changes to building codes and more green infrastructure and energy, and that U.S. leadership is pivotal.

“If the U.S. does not lead, it will be extremely difficult, if not impossible,” Ban said. “We have to turn this crisis into opportunity.”

More than 20 local university students attended the panel discussion where some asked Ban and Suarez questions. Some students expressed surprise at Miami’s efforts to respond to the rising seas.

Marybeth Arcodia, a third-year Ph.D. student at the University of Miami, said she appreciated the city’s installation of new floodwater drainage pumps.

“A lot of these discussions that I go to are mostly, ‘We should do this. We need to take action.’ I was happy to hear some actual tangible and concrete evidence of action,” she said.