In the name of climate #8: the Miami sea level is rising and it is a problem

We try, every month, to dispel some widespread beliefs about the environment, climate change and ecological transition. In this edition: Miami’s rising sea level is connected to climate change – but the authorities’ plan to counter the problem at local level doesn’t convince everyone.

One of the world’s cities most exposed to rising sea levels from global warming is Miami. Although the Florida city is better equipped and less densely populated than the world's other southern centres acutely exposed to this problem, Miami has the most to lose in economic terms, says the American organisation Resources for the Future. And it is because of coastal flooding, storms and rising sea levels.

The sea level in the Miami-South Florida area has increased by 30 centimetres since the beginning of the twentieth century and more than 10 centimetres since 1993. Springtime flooding due to high tides has become four times more common than 15 years ago. Some scientists say that sea levels will rise by another 15 centimetres in the next ten years, and even 1.5 metres by the end of the century. If this scenario turns out to be true, almost a third of the county's population will have to migrate because the area will become effectively uninhabitable.

A seafront area of the city of Miami (OneShot/Pexels.com)

The rising sea levels in South Florida have strong implications for the coastal real estate market and its importance for local institutions. Areas looking onto the ocean have higher property values, but they are the places most at risk from the effects of climate change: in fact, by 2040 whole tracts of real estate worth $ 3 billion could be lost, according to research by the Urban Land Institute.

This is why the local authorities have devised a plan to deal with the sea level, expected to rise 50 centimetres by 2060. The aim is to raise the level of roads and dwellings (by using pile structures), encouraging construction in areas further from the coast and creating open spaces where water from high tides can drain away. Yet according to some climate change experts, the plan falls short and actually underestimates the seriousness of the problems Miami will face.

The Natural Resources Defense Council, an international environmental protection organisation, says that the plan is flawed because it does not adequately analyse the risks of continued building along the coast. Mike Hernández, a consultant for the former Miami County administration, said the plan is designed for the best possible scenario – not the most likely one: «Realistically, an adaptation policy might mean giving up part of the land; it might mean moving people somewhere else or building an actual physical barrier».