The most recent federal report on climate state and its impact on living conditions and the economy of the United States should be a platform to rebuild Puerto Rico. Making the necessary decisions requires a strong willingness due to the federal administration reluctance to assume scientific warnings.
Once again, during the 2018 G-20 summit, the world's preeminent forum for economic, financial and political cooperation, President Donald Trump turned his back on the world and scientific evidence when he refused to commit to international agreements to slow down global warming.
In contrast, Governor Ricardo Rosselló has reiterated that climate change is the greatest challenge of this generation and expressed his intention to act accordingly. The evidence revealed in the Fourth National Climate Assessment, prepared – by law – by the United States Global Change Research Program, supports his decision.
The document details the impacts, risks and adaptation strategies that are urgent in the face of the accelerated change in the planet´s climate conditions. It outlines, in 12 summary findings, what citizens, governments and other sectors must know to act.
It concludes that climate change creates new risks and worsens vulnerabilities with increasing challenges to human health and safety, quality of life and economy. It anticipates that, without substantial and sustained mitigation and adaptation efforts, there will be significant losses, and it will alter our natural, built and social systems with their respective threats to essential services.
The report states that efforts to reduce risks and costs associated to lower greenhouse gas emission measures and adaptation strategies still fall short on the scale considered necessary to avoid substantial damages to the economy, environment and human health over the coming decades. The impact on the quality and quantity of water available for human use and ecosystems across the country are being affected by climate change, increasing risks and costs to agriculture, energy production, industry, recreation, and the environment.
The report also describes that extreme weather and climate-related events, such as 2017 hurricanes and other events that Puerto Rico knows, such as droughts and sudden floods, impact air quality. Disease transmission through insects and pests, food, and water increasingly threaten the health and well-being of the American people, particularly populations that are already vulnerable.
In short, climate change, in accelerated progress, forces us to change the way we plan and act, as individuals and as the whole Puerto Rico community.
We know that planning based on past conditions represents an obstacle. Guiding designs, standards, policies and practices based on current and future climate conditions will reduce risks. The document states that adaptation is a continuous process of risk management whose benefits exceed costs. And it must consider equity, justice, cultural heritage, environment and health, among other issues.
This is the first time that this report dedicates a chapter to the US Caribbean. It warns that increased resilience will depend on collaboration and integrated planning, preparation and responses across the region. "Shared knowledge, collaborative research and monitoring and sustainable institutional adaptive capacity can help support and speed up disaster recovery, reduce loss of life, enhance food security and improve economic opportunity in the US Caribbean,” states the report.
Local scientists co-authored this important document. Among them, members of the Climate Change Council, which for years has presented specific recommendations. Supported by the new report, these recommendations should be a platform for the work entrusted by the governor to the newly created Climate Change Group.