Florida

Miami Beach declares a climate emergency. Youth activists want other cities to do it too.

Miami Beach has declared a climate emergency, thanks to the advocacy efforts of Miami youth climate advocates.

They see it as a victory, and a first step toward convincing the city to do more to slow carbon emissions and climate change.

“It’s not just us holding up signs now. There’s literally legislation that says we need to put this at the top of the agenda,” said John Paul Mejia, a 17-year-old Miami Beach Senior High School student and member of several Miami-based climate action groups.

Youth activists held a passionate protest for climate action on September 20 in front of Miami Beach City Hall. Afterward, some advocates handed city Chief Resilience Officer Susy Torriente a resolution declaring a climate emergency. She passed it to the mayor’s office, which introduced it as a resolution that passed unanimously on Wednesday.

“It’s a testament to how being active and being engaged and being part of the conversation makes governments change,” Torriente said. “I just think it’s a testament to the movement, the young organizers.”

The actual resolution calls on the city to urge Florida and the U.S. Government to immediately begin an “emergency mobilization effort to restore a safe climate.” Copies will be sent to the U.S. House of Representatives; the majority leader of the U.S. Senate, Mitch McConnell; Florida Senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott; all Florida U.S. representatives; Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez and all the commissioners; and every city and town in the county.

But as for specific policy? There’s no mention of it in the resolution. Mejia, a member of Miami-based climate action group CLEO, said the importance of the resolution was in the language.

“This is more of a first step and gives us a lot of leverage,” he said. “We need to shift the narrative to understand this as a crisis because that’s what it really is.”

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Miami youth advocates for climate change talk to the Miami Beach City Commission about a resolution declaring a “climate emergency” in September, 2019. Mickey Adams

From here, he said, activists from CLEO and Miami-based chapters of climate action groups Extinction Rebellion, Fridays for Future and 350 plan to attend more city meetings to encourage Miami Beach to do more to address carbon emissions, the root cause of climate change. The city has largely focused on raising roads and installing pumps in an effort to keep residents and their property dry.

“Miami Beach is very responsive when it comes to adaptation, which is a necessity,” Mejia said. “What we need to focus on right now is mitigation.”

The Miami chapter of Extinction Rebellion plans to hold the city to the organization’s goal for the U.S. — net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2025. Local leader Nicholas Vazquez, 22, said activists want a “wartime mobilization” of efforts to reduce emissions across the nation.

“It is important for this resolution to be tied to a much larger push, to start a whole climate emergency response. It is now time for the City of Miami Beach to develop and implement mobilization policy. And what we would like to see is this resolution be taken seriously and for the City to actually commit to reducing its emissions at emergency speed,” he said.

Activists — and Torriente — hope other cities and even the county will follow the beach’s lead and issue their own resolutions.

“I think it would be wonderful if other cities can realize the sense of urgency that needs to take place and they start taking action,” Torriente said.

The recently passed resolution won praise from other Miami-based climate groups, including the Miami Climate Alliance, a collection of local green groups.

“We are so proud of the youth leaders and their allies who worked hard to make this declaration a reality. We hope the City of Miami Beach will continue this leadership trend by taking concrete action to reduce emissions, like transitioning to 100% clean and renewable energy,” Emily Gorman, a Sierra Club representative and steering committee chair of the climate alliance, said in a statement.

Miami Beach is just one of more than 1,100 jurisdictions in 20 countries that have declared a climate emergency, including the United Kingdom, New York City and even Pope Francis.

The long-simmering conversation about a climate emergency exploded in 2018 after an October United Nations report said that humanity needed to halve carbon emissions by 2030 to avoid even more dramatic changes by the end of the century, including droughts, famines and mass die-offs of coral reefs.

Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenager whose climate activism made headlines and inspired protests around the world, tweeted in May, “It’s 2019. Can we all now call it what it is: climate breakdown, climate crisis, climate emergency, ecological breakdown, ecological crisis and ecological emergency?”

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Alex Harris covers climate change for the Miami Herald, including how South Florida communities are adapting to the warming world. She attended the University of Florida.
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