Combating climate change to bring record crowd, climate heavyweights to summit

The wide-range of topics in itself represents 'tremendous progress' in the recognition of climate change, one panelist said.

The 14th Annual Southeast Florida Regional Climate Leadership Summit will bring the largest-ever crowd to Broward County Thursday for discussions about climate change and surrounding issues — including the “woke” investing that Gov. Ron DeSantis is purging from state portfolios.

The climate summit — an outgrowth of the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact  — has sold out with 775 attendees expected at the Broward County Convention Center.

The two-day event will be the regional compact’s first in-person summit since the pandemic and will feature speakers from across the globe, including a United Nations advisor and the senior director of socially conscious (known as ESG) investing for Standard & Poors Global Ratings.

Broward County Commissioner Steve Geller said he’s glad to see attention to climate change is finally reaching critical mass — he’s just hoping it’s not too late. As the Chairman of Broward County’s Water Advisory Board for the last four years, he’s seen the flooding that foretells the area’s canal system is much too close to being overwhelmed.

“You can pretend the environment doesn’t exist,” he said. “But I can tell you if we keep pretending the environment doesn’t exist, the environment is going to pretend we don’t exist.”

Alice C. Hill, a former White House advisor on national security and climate change in the era of President Barack Obama, is the keynote speaker. The current David M. Rubenstein Senior Fellow for Energy and the Environment at the Council of Foreign Relations specializes in addressing the hazards of climate change.

She has written books on the subject, including “Building a Resilient Tomorrow: How to Prepare for the Coming Climate Disruption.”

Nora Wittstruck is a panelist for the summit’s discussion on “Acting Amid Uncertainty: Climate, Risk and Finance.” She works for Standard & Poors Global Ratings — a leading bond rating agency — as head of the ESG Sector, which stands for Environmental, Social and Governance. ESG refers to the role of nonfinancial factors in investing — an approach that the Governor has vowed to remove from the state’s investments.

DeSantis recently announced the state was divesting $2 billion from BlackRock, an investment management company, in his administration’s fight against ESG investing. That company announced plans to move toward environmentally sustainable investments and away from fossil fuels.

DeSantis decried the company’s “social-engineering projects” in making the move. It “isn’t something that Florida ever signed up for,” he said.

He has, however, recently agreed to spend $276 million for 76 projects to combat rising sea levels.

Conference attendees will also learn how other countries are signing up to mitigate the effects of climate change. Representatives from Brazil, Canada, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom are part of another panel on models from abroad.

Broward County is highlighting the participation of entrepreneurs, including a food packaging company on a mission to end the use of single-use plastics in favor of plant-based packaging. The politicians speaking range from the federal level to local governments.

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz is slated to introduce the panel considering whether bold action can unite state and local leaders. State Rep. Robin Bartleman of Weston is on that same panel, which also includes former U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo.

Others scheduled to appear include Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, Broward County Mayor Lamar Fisher, Broward County Vice Mayor Nan Rich, Broward County Commissioners Beam Furr and Tim Ryan, Monroe County Mayor Craig Cates, Monroe County Mayor Pro Tem Holly Raschein, Palm Beach County Mayor Gregg Weiss and Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis.

Rich, who will be speaking on an affordable housing panel at the summit, called the broad array of interests represented at the event “tremendous progress” in itself.

“People throughout the community are really understanding the critical nature of the situation,” she said.

Hurricane Ian, for example, has forced people to consider how 70% of the state’s current housing doesn’t meet state building codes that were made to withstand high winds, she said.

“We have to find ways that can make things work with climate, to be resilient, to look at strategies that enable us to respect what’s happening with the environment,” she said.

She called the Governor’s position eschewing investments that consider societal issues such as racism, income inequality and climate change “appalling,” particularly considering that some investing with those issues in mind perform better financially than those that don’t consider that a factor.


Renzo Downey of Florida Politics contributed to this report.

Anne Geggis

Anne Geggis is a South Florida journalist who began her career in Vermont and has worked at the Sun-Sentinel, the Daytona Beach News-Journal and the Gainesville Sun covering government issues, health and education. She was a member of the Sun-Sentinel team that won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the Parkland high school shooting. You can reach her on Twitter @AnneBoca or by emailing [email protected].


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