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The Climate Crisis in Puerto Rico May Lead to Extreme Weather in U.S.
In a Capitol Hill briefing yesterday organized by the Latino Climate Action Network (LCAN), Senate and House staffers heard leading experts outline the extent of the increasingly grave Puerto Rico climate crisis, the steps being taken to address it, and how Puerto Rico’s climate-related woes soon will be a fate shared by much of the mainland U.S.
The experts also spoke at a national news conference held immediately after the Capitol Hill briefing hosted by U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Puerto Rico’s Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi. Representatives of 40 Congressional offices and three federal agencies attended the briefing.
Puerto Rico is one of the vulnerable places on Earth to the worsening ravages of climate change. In Puerto Rico, approximately 419,000 people live within the coastal zone, and 2.3 million live within the 44 coastal municipalities of the Commonwealth. Although all of Puerto Rico (including Culebra and Vieques) are coastal areas, the coastal zone is defined as 1 kilometer inland with additional distance for key natural systems. These populations are exposed to specific climate-related hazards such as coastal and riverine flooding, tsunamis, hurricanes, landslides, earthquakes and droughts.
“It is no longer a question of whether the coasts of Puerto Rico and many port cities in the Caribbean will be inundated, but rather it is a question of when and by how much,” said
Dr. Cecilio Ortiz, associate professor of Public Administration and Policy, Department of Social Science, University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez. “Heat waves, extreme precipitation events, and a host of other ill effects from climate change already being seen in Puerto Rico are a precursor for what can be expected in the mainland U.S. What we are already experiencing now will soon by the norm in much of the United States.”
“Climate change is real, it is here, and it is time to act because the effects of global climate change will be felt on coastal communities everywhere - including Puerto Rico. We have much more work to do in fighting the causes of global climate change and protect future generations,” said U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY). “I want to thank the leading scientists and environmental specialists from Puerto Rico that are attending this briefing today for their important work. These experts have documented eroding shorelines due to rising sea levels and as the growth of invasive species due to the increase as a result of changing temperatures. I look forward to working with them."
To guide decision making processes in Puerto Rico around coastal development and natural resource management, the Puerto Rico Coastal Zone Management Program (PRCZMP) has partnered with over 140 researchers, planners, architects, practitioners, agency representatives and communications experts to develop a comprehensive climate change vulnerability assessment for Puerto Rico.