8th Secretary-General of the United Nations Speaks at Miami-Dade About Miami’s Resilience Bond as Global Model

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Aerial view of downtown Miami and Brickell. Image credit: Ryan Parker

The former secretary-general of the United Nations, Mr. Ban Ki-Moon, spoke at Miami-Dade College about climate change, its impacts on Miami and beyond, the cost to adapt infrastructure, and the city’s resilience bond that serves as a model to the world as it faces a financial and moral obligation. The transcript follows below.

“The world is at a crossroad. Over 3 years since the Paris Climate Change Agreement was adopted, action to combat climate change remains insufficient in both scale and pace. The evidence for this is clear, the world [World Meteorological Organization] noted that 2018 was the 4th warmest year on record and that the 20 warmest years have all occurred in the past 22 years. In 2017, greenhouse gas concentrations reached new highs with the C02 at 405.5 ppm. This is 146% above pre-industrial levels. And the UN Environment Emissions Gap Report notes that current climate targets are insufficient to keep global temperature rise in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement. That means at least 2 degrees Celsius we have to contain. But as you know very well, the IPCC, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has made it clear that we must contain it below 1.5 degrees.

I should say that with great worry and concern that if we look at the way that world’s people are doing, I think that we are, unfortunately, heading towards [a] 3 degrees celsius scenario. So in such a case, even though I am not saying that in a hyperbole way, we may have to face very serious situations. As a lifelong diplomat, I do not speak in a much emphatic or strong way, but I might have to say that the people in Miami or Florida may face a very difficult situation if [a] 3 degree scenario continues this way. A 3 degree world may spell the end of Miami, even a 2 degree increase could be devastating. Our forecast shows almost the entire bottom third of Florida, the area south of Lake Okeechobee, and home to more than 7 million people submerged in such a scenario. And here, in Miami-Dade County, almost $15 billion worth of coastal property is at risk of flooding [in] the next 15 years.

Stan Bronson, Chairman of the Global Center for Climate Resilience; Simone Dominique, Chief Operating Officer of the Global Center for Climate Resilience; Jan Hartke, President of the Global Center for Climate Resilience; Ban Ki-Moon, 8th Secretary-General of the United Nations and Chairman of the Board, Global Center on Adaptation
Stan Bronson, Chairman of the Global Center for Climate Resilience; Simone Dominique, Chief Operating Officer of the Global Center for Climate Resilience; Jan Hartke, President of the Global Center for Climate Resilience; Ban Ki-Moon, 8th Secretary-General of the United Nations and Chairman of the Board, Global Center on Adaptation

If this is a 2 degree [scenario], what then? What will happen? If it is going to be 3 degrees what will happen? You can easily imagine. While our primary goal must always be to reign in greenhouse gas emissions and find a sustainable solution to climate change, we cannot ignore the fact that decades of inaction have left far too many already exposed and in a vulnerable situation. Climate change adaptation must be prioritized both in action and in financing.

But the good news is that cities around the world are rising to this challenge and are doing everything they can and within their power to protect their citizens but they need more help. This is particularly true for coastal regions and cities. In an ever urbanizing world, we must take steps to build resilience against climate impacts. And what is needed to achieve this, put simply, is money and leadership.

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I have been traveling [to] many places around the world, the Antarctica, Africa, [the] Amazon Basin, ––almost all the places where I could see global warming taking place. I have never expected, even though I have seen it many times on TV news, that floodings had devastated some Florida cities. But I have seen for myself today that Miami is exposed to [an] existential threat caused by climate. That is why Mayor Francis Suarez is now taking very bold steps, and I really thank you very much for that. I hope that all mayors in the United States and around the world will emulate as much as Miami is now doing.

Stan Bronson, Chairman of the Global Center for Climate Resilience; Frances Suarez, Mayor of the city of Miami and member Global Commission on Climate Adaptation; Jan Hartke, President of the Global Center for Climate Resilience.

Climate change is a problem such that no philanthropic organization or individual donor or any one country, however rich or resourceful one may be––the United States is the richest country but the [United States] cannot do it alone. There must be a stronger partnership among government, business community and civil society and including yourself, students. Because the world needs a complete pivot and overhaul in how we do development, in how we address climate change issues. Climate change issues must be at the center and front of our world, of government leaders.

And the same applies for adaptation. […] Not much, but significant investment have been made for mitigation but not much for adaptation. Adaptation, I think, has been just given $25 billion while mitigation has seen more than $450 billion. Therefore, I am really emphasizing that we must do much, much more to adapt and address the risk which may come soon. We will never achieve the levels of financing required without support from, again, the private sector.

The fact is that $90 trillion will be invested in infrastructure, between now and 2030––most of it in the cities. This is roughly equivalent to $100 trillion invested in standing infrastructures. This is [an] astronomical figure, and with the support from government, developers and investors could reshape how development is done.

Consider this, what if every new project and every dollar spent on this infrastructure initiatives was centered around  a risk reduction and resilience approach. What if all new houses, shopping centres, roads, hospitals and schools were required to assess and address climate impacts before beginning construction? Essentially, we would be redesigning the cities of the future, building resilience into the mix before and shovels ever hit the ground.

The idea is that we must risk inform our development at all stages. As a planet, we can no longer ignore the threats that surround us, especially in regions that have experienced, time and again, the devastation of climate impacts.  Climate change adaptation and disaster resilience must be a constant in all our deliberations and in our daily lives. Of course this is easier said than done. And one of the major hold ups for private sector investment in adaptation is the lack of financial incentives. Unlike climate mitigation projects such as renewable, where there are bankable projects with returns on investment, you are less likely to find the 3rd-party investors willing to shore up climate adaptation. So it is important that we have a longer vision, before [it is] too late, before we have regret, [we need to] invest in adaptation.

Government leadership, particularly from city governments, can help to change this. Through the global covenant of mayors, over 9,000 cities around the world have pledged to take action on climate change and to develop plans and actions to protect their citizens. Governments can help to assuage the concerns of the private sector through efforts that de-risk and incentivize climate change adaptation.

Resilience bonds are one such mechanism for this. For that I would like again to commend the initiative of Mayor Suarez for this Miami Forever bond. By doing this, we can have all the citizens, get together in this.

Building on the wave of new technologies that are emerging, including the use of drones for risk mapping, communities can also turn concepts about risk and resilience into clear facts that quantify damage and loss assessment. Such information will allow governments and the private sector to support communities with specific and targeted funds that help build resilience against climate losses.

Ladies and gentlemen, Miami can and should play a clear role, in spearheading this initiative and in demonstrating to other cities and municipalities the utility, efficacy, and cost effectiveness of resilience funds. I am very pleased to say that Mayor Suarez is extending an impressive model of American climate leadership with the issuance of this very bond. The same leadership that has been shown in Miami is now needed on adaptation in America. As we saw in Puerto Rico, Florida, Texas, in 2017, and as we saw in California last year, [states are] facing extreme weather ever more frequently.

We have both a moral and fiscal obligation to act and to prevent––and prepare, and mitigate the impact[…]. Not only will this save lives and livelihoods, but it will protect billions or trillions of dollars in damages and losses.”