Development and sea level rise are two things Miami is known for. And they go hand-in-hand, as developers and local officials plan how to make buildings resilient against water that could rise three to six feet by 2100.
Alan Ojeda is CEO of the Rilea Group, which recently developed a 35-story building in Brickell that earned a gold LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification from the United States Green Building Council. On Friday, Ojeda was a panelist at a resiliency conference organized by the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce, where he explained that to prepare for sea level rise, buildings can be designed so they’re higher off the ground. But he emphasized that developers should focus their attention on cutting emissions.
"The main thing is using less electricity," Ojeda said. "Sea level rise happens because of the CO2 in the atmosphere... and we need to cut [CO2] emissions. That’s the only thing that will stop the sea level rise."
Ojeda says one design element that helped his building, 1450 Brickell, earn its gold status is glass that keeps out heat and light, reducing air conditioning use. He also says he'd like South Floridians to push their elected officials to follow through on the Paris Climate Accords to cut carbon emissions.
But experts say South Florida is guaranteed to experience sea level rise regardless of emissions cuts.
Daniel Kreeger is executive director of the Association of Climate Change Officers, a national non-profit that teaches elected officials, business leaders and other professionals about climate change.
“The oceans are warming, which causes an expansion; ice that is on land is falling into the ocean. That combination of things will not be stopped by energy efficient buildings,” Kreeger said. “If the planet went carbon-neutral today, we’d have a certain amount of sea-level rise baked into the system, period."
However, Kreeger says, cutting carbon emissions is still important because it can limit the total amount of sea level rise.
“I thought it was great that a developer was at an event of this subject matter, talking about this,” he said. “But we’ve got to get how we articulate what’s going on and what we need to do, correct.
“You can have a really energy efficient building, and if it’s underwater, it doesn’t matter.”
This post has been updated to include quotes from Daniel Kreeger and additional context: that South Florida will experience sea level rise regardless of emissions cuts.