Rising Sea Levels Threaten Florida’s Prosperity

Florida is one of the country’s fastest-growing states, but its growth and economy face significant challenges due to climate change. The biggest issue: rising sea levels.

Like other states, Florida’s climate is changing. The increase in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere lets the atmosphere retain more heat energy, which increases ocean temperatures. As ocean temperatures increase, the large ice sheets melt, ocean water expands, and sea levels rise. Globally, the average sea level has gone up roughly eight inches, according to an analysis at Climate Central.

As Florida is a coastal state, this is problematic, especially since living near the water is an attractive option for Florida residents. Two-thirds of Florida’s population lives near the coastline, and 10% of the population lives less than five feet above sea level, according to a McKinsey case study.

South Floridians are already experiencing some of the effects of rising sea levels, as salt water “pushes through porous bedrock into coastal drinking-water supplies, and rivers and canals [are] choked by heavy rains” that have a “harder time draining into the ocean.” The analysis also reported that according to a recent Florida Atlantic University study, another six inches of sea level rise, which is very likely within 20 years, would “cripple about half of South Florida’s flood control capacity.”

As Florida’s sea levels rise, the risk of hurricane storm surges increases. Continued global warming will probably lead to more frequent and intense hurricanes.

Florida Fiscal Issues Caused by Climate Change

Rising sea levels will affect properties, which is problematic in Florida. With no state income tax, Florida local governments receive 30% of their tax revenue from property taxes.

Florida TaxWatch, a nonprofit research institute, and government watchdog, reported that residential flooding will eliminate $350 million from local governments’ property tax base by 2045.

A 2023 study published in the Journal of the American Planning Association showed that the sea level rise in Florida “would affect $619 billion in assessed property values that currently contribute $2.36 billion in property taxes.” Coastal municipalities would be more affected than those inland. The analysis also reported that the financial impact of climate change in Florida was likely to be much more than this, with other local revenue lost due to repairing or expanding infrastructure to manage climate change challenges.

To better manage the fiscal effects of climate change on local communities, the study authors suggested four strategies: assessing fiscal risks, decreasing pressure to develop vulnerable areas by creating alternative revenue sources; strengthening regional planning to include pooling of land, taxes, and services; and bolstering low-income communities’ control over land and housing to avoid displacement.