History of climate change efforts in Puerto Rico

While recent years have brought more attention to the issue of climate change in the islands of Puerto Rico, efforts have been made since the 1990’s to inform climate-sensitive decision making and natural resource management. Scientific studies have been carried out in Puerto Rico in the fields of physical oceanography, forestry, wildlife biology marine biology, and epidemiology  recognizing the importance of climate stressors and the potential affects they could have on Puerto Rico and the Caribbean’s social-ecological systems, such as on root function (Van Noordwijk et al. 1998), amphibian decline (Burrowes et al. 2004), coral disease and bleaching (Hernández-Pacheco et al. 2011; Weil et al. 2009; Winter et al. 1998), forest disturbances (Thompson et al. 2007),  fisheries management (Nurse 2011), flood prevention (López-Marrero and Yarnal 2010; Staes et al. 1994), and vector borne diseases (Johansson et al. 2009), just to name a few.

The information coming from global and local studies prompted the University of Puerto Rico and NOAA’s Sea Grant College Program to conduct two roundtables, one in 2007 and the second in 2009. These roundtables brought together the most prominent scientists working in Puerto Rico to share the current state of knowledge on climate science as well as the potential impacts to natural resources and society. After the first roundtable in 2007 a local advocacy organization Citizens of the Karst published a Climate Change Declaration to the Government and Citizens of Puerto Rico by 174 members of the scientific and academic community. The declaration highlighted the findings of the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change ((IPCC) 2007) as well as brought attention to Puerto Rico being an island located in the Caribbean region subject to hurricanes with one of the highest population densities in the world (in 2007 it was at 1,140 people per square mile) and a history of human impacts on Puerto Rico from the loss of agricultural soils, degradation of catchment areas and water supply replenishment, increased number of threatened or endangered species of flora and fauna, growing threat to life and property from construction in areas susceptible to coastal and riverine flooding and landslides, and unsustainable land use. The declaration called for all agencies of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico to use the best scientific information and a precautionary framework for decisions on land development and the use of natural resources. In addition to other requests like the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and dependence on fossil fuels, they demanded an immediate halt to the endorsement and approval of projects in coastal areas vulnerable to the effects of sea level rise.

In 2008 the Commonwealth Governor produced an executive order (Boletín Administrativo Número 0E-2008-09) to create the Strategic Affairs Commission for Mitigation of Global Warming and Adaptation to Climate Change in Puerto Rico and to Develop a Comprehensive Plan of Action about Global Warming. The Commission meet a few times to develop a plan outline and to assign tasks, but has not meet since 2008 (Matos, I. 2010, pers. comm15 September) and may even have been formerly repealed.