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Climate change is impacting so much around us: heat, flooding, health, wildlife, housing, and more. WUSF, in collaboration with the Florida Climate Reporting Network, is bringing you stories on how climate change is affecting you.

A Sarasota climate scientist breaks down COP 28 and tells us how the talks affect Floridians

Fossil Fuel Phase Out action at the UN Climate Change Conference COP28 at Expo City Dubai on December 13, 2023, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
Andrea DiCenzo
Fossil Fuel Phase Out action at the UN Climate Change Conference COP28 at Expo City Dubai on December 13, 2023, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

We bring you the highlights from the 28th United Nations Climate Change conference. It was held in Dubai, United Arab Emirates from Nov. 30 through Dec. 12.

The United Nations closed out its climate summit called COP 28 this week.

The annual meeting with leaders from all over the world came after a year of record-breaking heat, wildfires and hurricanes.

WUSF's Jessica Meszaros spoke to Bob Bunting, a climate scientist at the Climate Adaptation Center in Sarasota, about how these international talks impact Floridians.

What were the main takeaways that you were paying attention to this past COP 28?

Robert Bunting is the CEO and Chairman of Climate Adaptation Center, Inc.
Robert Bunting is the CEO and Chairman of Climate Adaptation Center, Inc.

This particular climate conference was about, for the first time, setting a deadline to wean the world off of fossil fuels and toward other energy sources that would not be putting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere that would continue the rate of warming, which is now extreme. We're two times faster than we were even in the late 1900s.

And the meeting failed to reach an agreement on phasing out fossil fuels. But what it was able to do was to say that we are going to move toward that goal, and do everything we can to replace fossil fuels with sustainable energy as fast as we can, without plunging the world into economic chaos doing it.

Is there anything that we'll be able to see or notice, any actions that we'll be able to witness as a result of the conversations had at COP 28?

In the next two years, the countries that are all unanimous in this agreement have to go back home to their own countries, and they have to come up with the specific implementation strategies that are going to get them to the goals that they've committed to in time. And then those agreements are going to, from the top down, impact legislation in each country and in our country, congressional action, and spending bills, etc. to help make this transition happen.

These conversations were happening at COP 28 at a global scale. So, what does that mean for residents in the state of Florida, or people in living in the Greater Tampa Bay region?

So, in Florida, we are in a low-lying area of the world. In fact, South Florida, about half of it is below 10 feet above sea level. In Tampa Bay, of course, is on the west coast of Florida, where we have a very shallow continental shelf. And what that means is when we get these storms, i.e., hurricanes, forming that are forming more frequently and becoming stronger, and moving closer to the west coast of Florida all the time.

With that very shallow continental shelf, it concentrates the water from these super hurricanes and creates these storm surges that we're starting to see up and down the west coast of Florida.

In the last two years, we've had two Category 4 or 5 hurricanes come ashore on the west coast of Florida. And those two storms alone created $135 billion in damage. It's getting to be serious impacts, and to say nothing about the lives lost, 300,000 cars in Florida were lost, thousands of homes, and the misery that it creates in the areas where they strike.

And so, we are seeing the climate impacts and we are seeing the cost in our insurance rates for automobiles and our home insurance, and our general feeling of safety here in Florida. And we're experiencing, of course, more heat. This was a record warm year around the world. Florida suffers from the heat in the summertime. So, we're being impacted and the question is for us is: how do we adapt?

My main role for WUSF is to report on climate change and the environment, while taking part in NPR’s High-Impact Climate Change Team. I’m also a participant of the Florida Climate Change Reporting Network.