The Creation of the PRCCC

Recognizing the limited success of previous efforts combined with the numerous challenges to implementing climate adaptation policies, the Puerto Rico Coastal Zone Management Program began strategizing with its numerous partners in other agencies and university programs. In 2009 the Puerto Rico Coastal Zone Management Program submitted a proposal to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)’s Coastal Services Center to gain assistance in climate and coastal hazards efforts. In 2010 a NOAA Coastal Management Fellow through the PRCZMP and NOAA Coastal Services Center was placed in the Coastal Zone Management division office to coordinate the Puerto Rico Coastal Adaptation Project for a period of two years. The 1972 Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA) of the U.S.A. is in large part the vehicle for the ability of the PRCZMP to work on coastal hazard and climate change. Under Section 309 of the CZMA each program office is eligible for Coastal Zone Enhancement Grants and one of the objectives of these enhancement grants is “preventing or significantly reducing threats to life and destruction of property by eliminating development and redevelopment in high-hazard areas, managing development in other hazard areas, and anticipating and managing the effects of potential sea level rise and Great Lakes level rise” (CZMA 1972: 16 U.S.C. § 1456b).

Through collaboration with numerous stakeholders the goal is to develop a coastal zone vulnerability assessment and appropriate adaptation strategies to help Puerto Rico cope with existing coastal hazards and future climate changes. Employing multi-stakeholder collaboration techniques, spatial analysis tools, geophysical and chemical scientific knowledge, and utilization of the best available data from Puerto Rico’s experts the Project is operating with a vision for a safe, healthy, productive, sustainable and resilient Puerto Rico. The project is being conducted with the intention that outputs will be adopted by government, civil society, and the private sector.

In November 2010, the PRCZMP initiated Puerto Rico’s third roundtable on climate change. As was done in the 2007 and 2009 roundtable events, experts from the scientific and academic community came together to share the current state of climate science. In addition to this sharing of knowledge, representatives from the media also presented their views on climate change and a dialogue was facilitated between scientists and the media. The goal was to find gaps in communications between the two groups and begin devising a strategy to work together in the future. The afternoon of the roundtable was devoted to pitching the idea of the Puerto Rico Coastal Adaptation Project and discussing as a large group the creation of a panel of experts to assess the effects of climate change on Puerto Rico’s society and ecosystems.   The idea was meet with excitement and encouragement and together the participants of the roundtable discussed process and sectors to be assessed.

Between November 2010 and April 2011 critical partners were recruited and the panel decided on a name, The Puerto Rico Climate Change Council (PRCCC), and a collaboration process. By researching previous efforts from around the world and especially other island communities, the PRCCC together decided on objectives, a vision, guiding principles, and the sectors to be assessed.

The PRCCC begun collaboration to ensure a coordinated effort in assessing risks and impacts from coastal hazards and climate changes and in recommending adaptation strategies. Operating with a vision for a Safe, Healthy, Sustainable, Productive, and Resilient Puerto Rico, the collaboration is working towards the following objectives: (1)To use the best available scientific knowledge to identify the communities and ecosystems most at-risk from coastal hazards and climate change; (2) To identify, assess, prioritize, and develop effective adaptation strategies and policies that could be implemented in Puerto Rico; (3) To communicate findings, consensuses, and recommendations to government, civil society, the media, and the private sector; and (4) To cultivate a well-informed Puerto Rican society about coastal hazards, climate change adaptation and mitigation.

Membership selection in the PRCCC has been ongoing and as such the PRCCC is constantly growing. At the time of writing, the PRCCC is comprised of over 140 partners representing researchers, planners, architects, practitioners, agency representatives and communications experts.  Participants are selected based on expertise and recommendations from current participants.

The PRCCC is collaborate using a set of 14 guiding principles to ensure a coordinated effort in assessing risks and impacts from coastal hazards and climate changes and recommending adaptation strategies to government, civil society, and the private sector.

 

Understand that global climate variability and change is occurring (as asserted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the United States Global Change Research Program).

Ensure assessment of climate impacts on the time scale of present day, 2020, 2050, and 2100.

Ensure that recommended adaptation strategies range from efforts that can be implemented in 1-5 years as well as by 2020, 2050, 2100.

Understand that data (both historical, current, and prospective) continues to be collected and that knowledge about climate change is still evolving. As such, an effective adaptation strategy is “living” and will itself be adapted to account for new science.

Identify and involve relevant and willing stakeholders in identifying, reviewing, and refining the recommended adaptation strategies

Give priority to adaptation strategies and policies that initiate, foster, and enhance existing efforts that improve economic and social well-being, public safety and security, public health, environmental justice, species and habitat protection, and ecological function.

When possible, give priority to adaptation strategies that modify and enhance existing policies rather than solutions that require new funding and new staffing.

Include community-based and participatory approaches to adaptation when developing recommendations.

Understand the need for adaptation policies that are effective and flexible enough for circumstances that may not yet be fully predictable.

Ensure that climate change adaptation strategies take into consideration the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and therefore do not further contribute to global issues.

Ensure that our natural systems are resilient to likely change. Maintaining healthy ecosystems is essential to our long-term success in meeting the above vision for Puerto Rico. Efforts to build resilience for Puerto Rico’s communities and people must go hand-in-hand with strategies that minimize both impacts to the natural and environment and losses of ecosystem services upon which we and Puerto Rico’s natural resources depend.

Recognize that these issues go beyond the coastal zone and where possible include watersheds and other non-coastal zone areas into assessments and strategies.

Adaptation includes reducing existing stresses on natural and human systems. Recommendations should specify which current stressors are likely to be exacerbated by climate change impacts.

Ensure that we prepare for both incremental and acute impacts. Although most climate change effects are taking place over time, some will be episodic and unpredictable, such as insect outbreaks or greater impacts to coastal areas from combined sea level rise and increased storm intensity. Puerto Rico’s adaptation efforts must work simultaneously to address slower-arriving impacts and those that are more immediate or acute.