Preparing for a Sustainable Future

Miami’s coveted position as a global hub may depend on surviving climate change

COMBATTING MIAMI’S GROWING PAINS WITH SUSTAINABLE INFRASTRUCTURE

Earlier this year, more than 200 local officials and foreign delegates converged at one of the busiest cruise terminals in PortMiami for the 26th annual Inter-American Conference of Mayors and Local Authorities. Hosted by the Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners and organized by the Miami-Dade County International Trade Consortium, the two-day February conference brought together policymakers and officials from 27 cities and 16 countries across Latin America and the Caribbean to discuss topics ranging from eco-tourism and disaster planning. One panel was especially relevant to Miami’s recent growing pains: sustainable infrastructure.

In recent years, as Miami’s risk for climate-related challenges has increased, Miami-Dade County has focused on resiliency and sustainable infrastructure. In 2023, the county was designated as a hub for climate technology by the U.S. Economic Development Administration, making it eligible for federal grants to promote solution-oriented climate research like shoreline protection systems and hybridized coral reefs.  

Hybrid reef structures on a barge, ready to be lowered into the ocean off Miami Beach to allow coastal resilience

Moderated by Wendy Conforme, CEO of the PortMiami Tunnel, the panel featured some of Miami’s leading voices in infrastructure, including Ralph Cutié, director and CEO of the Miami-Dade Aviation Department, and Richard de Villiers, PortMiami’s chief of staff. As the panel made clear, sustainable infrastructure is an international problem rather than just a local one. 

According to a recent study funded by the University of Miami Laboratory for Integrative Knowledge (U-LINK), the long-term strength of PortMiami is contingent on the resilience of its trade partners. This includes ports such as Puerto Cortés (Honduras), Veracruz (Mexico), Puerto Plata (Dominican Republic), and St. Thomas, which, due to their low resilience levels could impact PortMiami’s performance. By improving their resiliency, these ports can help make PortMiami’s maritime supply chain less vulnerable to future climate-related disasters.

A MULTI-PRONGED EFFORT

One organization that is strengthening the ports network is the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). Tatiana Gallego-Lizon, the Chief of Housing and Urban Development for IDB, spoke on the importance of increasing sustainable infrastructure in Latin America and the Caribbean. “Climate is truly transforming the way in which we approach infrastructure. Latin America and the Caribbean have 81 percent of people living in cities, and cities in these regions are highly vulnerable,” said Gallego-Lizon. Because human resources are so concentrated, the effects of climate-related natural disasters would be especially detrimental. 

(Left to right) Wellington Andrade, Wendy Conforme, Tatiana Gallego-Lizon, Dr. Armando Martínez Manríquez, Ralph Cutié, Richard de Villiers, Dr. Rafael Echevarne

The IDB is currently the largest multilateral development bank working in the region, with 26 borrowing members in Latin America. According to Gallego-Lizon, sustainable infrastructure now represents more than 50 percent of the $15 billion annual lending that the bank does. Dr. Rafael Echevarne, director general of Airports Council International-Latin American and the Caribbean, said that sometimes investments in sustainable infrastructure are also the most cost-effective, especially when it comes to smaller-scale airports. “I always say as a half-joke that, even if you don’t believe in climate change, it makes sense to use solar power, because it reduces tremendously the cost of powering these airports,” he said.

De Villers and Cutié described how PortMiami and the airport are investing in energy-efficient solutions that will have long-term compounding effects. De Villiers said PortMiami is reducing emissions with its shore power program for docked vessels and its utilization of new technology to process trucks faster and thereby reduce the time they sit idle. Cutié gave examples of how the airport has cut down on energy consumption. In 2020, MIA completed a contract with Florida Power & Light Company (FPL) that installed $45 million worth of energy-efficient LED lighting, HVAC units, and water and heating systems that will yield more than $60 million in savings over 15 years.

Even though sustainable infrastructure seems like an obvious priority for governments across the region, many lack adequate funding resources. To fill the gap, some are turning to private investment and non-profit organizations for long-term investments. Dr. Armando Martínez Manríquez, mayor of Altamira, Mexico, offered his city as a case study for encouraging private companies to complete sustainable infrastructure projects. Altamira is working on a wastewater treatment plant that Mexico’s National Water Commission was unable to fund. Local business leaders invested in the project in exchange for private ownership and long-term returns.

On the non-profit side, Wellington Andrade, CEO of the Mato Grosso Soybean & Corn Growers Association, Brazil (Aprosoja-MT), spoke about how his association influences farmers to grow more sustainably, thus reducing deforestation. Because the state of Mato Grosso grows 10 percent of the world’s soybeans and 3.5 percent of the world’s corn, Aprosoja-MT can make a significant impact by educating its 8,000 members.

For Miami, investment in sustainable infrastructure has a huge economic impact. By ensuring its adaptability to the worsening climate crisis, and to potential climate-induced catastrophes, the city becomes a safer bet for foreign companies.

“[Sustainable infrastructure] can drive foreign investment,” says Galen Treuer, climate tech and economic innovation manager for Miami-Dade County. “This makes our region more competitive with China because we’re enhancing the trade in our region – and maintaining it – the same technologies we’re developing here are going to be relevant throughout the Gulf and Latin America.”

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