By Jai-Leen James, Contributing Reporter
MIAMI BEACH, FLORIDA – Henk Ovnik, the first-ever ambassador for water worldwide, came to Miami-Dade County to discuss sea level rise Tuesday, May 21st. The Miami-Dade County Office of Resilience and the Consulate General of the Kingdom of the Netherlands hosted a student workshop and press conference on seal level rise adaptation.
The event took place at the Perez Art Museum in Miami. Students paired with engineering, climate change, architecture, urban design and public policy professionals to brainstorm innovative methods that Miami-Dade can use to combat rising sea levels in the next forty years.
Ovink was appointed in 2015 by the Government of the Netherlands as the first special envoy for international water affairs. The first ever in this position, Ovnik travels around the world advocating water awareness and surveying resiliency plans. He shares insight on the world’s pressing needs on water.
“I’m very impressed with how they’re dealing with the issue in Miami Beach. They’re building a smarter, more redundant system,” Ovnik said about the city’s resiliency efforts.
“They’re incrementally preparing the island, with bigger roads, better pumping systems, and raising critical infrastructure so when water levels rise, they’ll avoid shutdown or catastrophe. That’s a very intelligent way of preparing their space for future uncertainties.”
Ovink admitted, “Of course, you can also take a more critical approach; you can’t do this island by island, you need to take a regional approach. But the incremental, high-quality, safety approach is to be applauded.”
According to a new study by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, global sea levels could rise by over six feet by 2100.
Climate change according to Flood IQ, between 2005 to 2017, Miami Beach saw a loss in property value of more than $300 million – the second highest in the nation. In the future as sea levels continue to rise, more than seven million lives and trillions of dollars in real estate are at serious risk.
The Dutch government has been battling sea level rise for nearly a thousand years. 26 percent of the Netherlands is below sea level. In January 1953, a North Sea storm flooded 500 square miles of the Netherlands and killed nearly two thousand people.
Sea levels in Holland are projected to rise more than three feet by the end of the century. Since then, the Dutch government has developed dams, dikes and floodgates to keep the country safe and storm resistant.
“Our research shows the financial assets on the waterfront are increasing and their vulnerability is increasing too,” Ovnik said. “We’re talking trillions of dollars. Miami is always in the top ten of cities with assets at risk.”
“You need to change the mindset and the time frame. The return on investment for developers is too short to take climate change into account.”
“Think about people taking thirty-year mortgages on properties that might be underwater in a few decades.”
“You need to get finance to be the thing that turns the needle towards better investment — can you change the insurance industry and private investors to value things on the long term? I don’t have a crystal ball, so I’m not sure how that happens.”