Climate change to dramatically impact Puerto Rico

by | Jun 28, 2017 | Puerto Rico | Comments

Puerto Rico will be largely affected by climate change, the consequences being largely humanitarian and economic, and the government must take steps to ensure the safety of its citizens and the businesses in the archipelago.

The US Environmental Protection Agency has kept a close eye on the archipelago’s climate and things have certainly changed. Since 1901, the waters around Puerto Rico have warmed by nearly two degrees. Along its coast rests important and historical infrastructure that is at risk not only from rising sea levels that will invade the land and an increase flooding, but also from stronger tropical storms and hurricanes. Rainfall during heavy storms has increased 33 percent since 1958, a trend that the EPA notes will continue. An increase in rainfall during storms will mean that inland rivers will overtop and low-lying areas will be flooded.

This doesn’t mean that heavy rainstorms will also increase, quite the opposite. Spring and summer will become hotter and the amount of water available will decrease since the water will evaporate at a faster rate; in other words droughts will become more common. Puerto Rico already suffered its worst drought in 2015, affecting everyday life and the economy.

Puerto Rico also advertises itself for its ideal weather conditions for crop productivity, having 4 to 5 crops a year, yet this will come under scrutiny if the amount of water available reduces and temperatures continue to rise. Hot temperatures will threaten farm animals’ health and crops of plantains, bananas and coffee will decrease. Warming water temperatures mean an increase in acidity of the waters, the ecosystems and habitat for aquatic species will disappear along with fisheries and tourism. Bacteria and algae will infect surrounding fish and their consumption will risk infection of illnesses. All of this meaning that food might become less available and/or prices will increase as certain economic sectors such as agriculture, fisheries and tourism take a hit.

Human health and safety will also be at risk as hot temperatures cause heat stroke, dehydration, an increase in respiratory allergies, and affect asthma, cardiovascular diseases, and the nervous system. The climate will favor mosquitoes and their chances of carrying viruses. With sea levels rising, many residents living along the coast might have to relocate, whether they choose to move further inland or migrate outside of Puerto Rico, the government would have to prepare for an increase in relocation.

The Trump Administration’s position on its Caribbean strategy should be made known soon as per the United States-Caribbean Strategic Engagement Act, the US Congress must submit a report on several issues, including “improving energy security by increasing access to diverse, reliable, and affordable power.” There’s little chance that any policy regarding renewable energy might take place as President Donald Trump has decided to exit the Paris Climate Accords, meaning that Puerto Rico won’t be part of the strategy to mitigate global warming. However, like many US states, the territory might be able to uphold its own standard of how to combat climate change, and as of now, the current administration has decided to join several states in pledging to uphold the Paris climate agreement at their level. For the time being, Puerto Rico is in a position to not only help its environment but promote its benefits.

In 2006, Law 254 was enacted as a means towards making tourism more sustainable and ecofriendly. It has been successful in opening up more alternatives for entertainment on the archipelago. Ecotourism also means there is economic incentive to protect the natural resources in Puerto Rico. Though tourists have always been attracted to Puerto Rico’s beaches, more inland tourism is taking place as attractions open up all across the diverse ecosystem while making sure that environmental conservation continues.

The government is currently aiming to increase dependency on renewable energy by 5%. Currently the island produces 1.5% renewable energy and as the cost of electricity continue to raise, many residents have turned to installing solar panels to their homes. During a conference in Connecticut, Governor Ricardo Rosselló said that Puerto Rico wants to decrease the costs of energy and use cleaner energy, adding that between August and September requests for proposals these clean energy alternatives will be issued to Public Private Alliance (Alianzas Público Privadas). Companies in Puerto Rico are already taking a step forward in reducing their carbon footprint by installing solar panels and initiating programs that aim to encourage renewable energy proposals.