The effects of climate change could be felt quickly and be costly in Florida.
“Florida faces more risk than any other state that private, insurable property could be inundated by high tide, storm surge and sea level rise” if it fails to protect itself, according to a new report by the Risky Business Project an analysis of global economic effects of climate change funded by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, former U.S. Treasury Sec. Henry Paulson and Thomas Steyer, founder of Farallon Capital Management LLC.
The report is called Come Heat and High Water: Climate Risk in Southeastern U.S. and Texas. In addition to Florida, it addresses unique vulnerabilities and projected impacts on Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.
Previous reports from the project analyzed risks to the overall nation the Midwest and California.
In Florida, up to $69 billion in coastal property not at risk today will likely be at risk of inundation at high tide by 2030. By 2050, the value of at-risk property below local high tide levels will increase to about $152 billion.
In addition, the value of coastal property that will be below mean sea level will range from an estimated $5.6 billion to $14.8 billion by 2030 and between $14.8 billion and $23.3 billion by 2050.
Higher seas will lead to more widespread destruction from storms. The report predicts storm-related losses attributed to climate change could increase by $1.3 billion a year by 2030 and by $4 billion a year by 2050.
The human toll will be high as well, the report says, as rising temperatures will be responsible for as many as 1,840 additional heat-related deaths in the state each year.
The average number of days with temperatures over 95 degrees is likely to increase from seven now to 32 by 2020-2039. By mid-century, temperatures will exceed 95 degrees 76 days a year, the study projects.
Dr. Leonard Berry, former director of the Center for Environmental Studies at Florida Atlantic University, called the projections “reasonable and logical.” Berry was a lead author of the Southeast U.S. section of the 2014 National Climate Assessment, which detailed South Florida’s vulnerabilities and the economic and health consequences of a projected 1- to 4-foot sea level rise by 2100.
“South Florida residents enjoy the glory of living close to the coast, but our land is so flat even a small amount of sea level rise of 5 to 7 inches, like we’ve already had, causes problems,” he said.
The property insurance industry is recognizing that scientists have reached consensus that the climate is changing, Lynne McChristian, Florida spokeswoman for the Insurance Information Institute, an industry organization, said in an email interview. As a result, “insurers have a responsibility to recognize — and plan for — the possible economic impacts,” she said.
David Kodama, researcher for the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, said by email that he knows of no specific education or lobbying initiative in Florida, but the association supports “a national effort to educate insurance consumers, public policymakers and stakeholder groups on measures to mitigate and adapt to evolving risks that may be related to climate change.” They include land-use development policies that consider future risks, he said.
A September 2014 paper by the Insurance Information Institute says insurers are developing a range of products to reward policyholders who contribute to curbing climate change. They include mileage-based auto insurance giving drivers the option of driving less and paying lower premiums.
“Green” building insurance covers losses resulting from interruptions to owner-installed geothermal, solar or wind power, or allow policyholders who suffer a fire or other disaster to rebuild to green standards.
A Plantation-based startup company, Coastal Risk Consulting, offers a proprietary algorithm that property owners and potential buyers can use to evaluate their risks of non-storm flooding over the next 30 years.
Berry said he has been working with Coastal Risk Consulting to help homeowners identify ways to protect their properties. Fixes may include building sea walls or barriers around homes and installing reversible pumps into drainage systems, he said.
Berry expects the insurance industry to begin rolling out climate change coverage products within five years.
Florida is at greatest risk of property loss not just because it has the longest sea coast in the continental U.S. and the most expensive coastal real estate, Berry said, but because of the state’s low elevation and high water table. Inland flooding will become common during high tides from water rising up through the ground, overflowing canals and drainage systems in low-lying inland communities, he said.
The Risky Business Project report notes that much of Miami is built on porous limestone that allows seawater to flood inland areas protected by barriers. Mean sea level in Miami is likely to rise 0.8 to 1.2 feet by 2050, the report says.
Also at economic risk is the increased manufacturing activity in the Southeast that helped pull the nation out of recession, the report said. That’s because of the sector’s reliance on at-risk transportation infrastructure such as roads, railways, rivers and ports, water-intensive energy generation and workers at higher risk for heat stroke. Extreme heat will affect food manufacturers in particular through decreased crop yields and lower performance, production and fertility among livestock.
The Risky Business Project points out that its projections assume that storm activities will continue at historical levels, but actually might increase with climate change.
The projections also assume no effort will be made to address the looming problems by businesses and the government. But climate change is being taken seriously by South Florida governments.
Miami Beach is building a $300 million stormwater project to protect its $27 billion in coastal real estate, the report notes.
Not noted is the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact, a coalition started in 2010 by Broward, Palm Beach, Miami-Dade and Monroe counties to work with cities and the state and federal governments on mitigation and adaptation strategies. The compact will host its 7th annual Southeast Florida Climate Leadership Summit from Dec. 1-3 in Key West.
“Two feet is potentially a lot at risk, but a lot might be done to mitigate the risk,” Berry said. “The time to begin to look at ways to lessen the risk is now, not in 10 or 20 years.”