Guam forum focuses on action to mitigate climate change effects
By Frank Whitman
Erosion runoff and damage to coral reefs, illegal dumping and inadequate recycling programs, reliance on fossil fuels for energy needs, increasing frequency, severity and unpredictability of hazardous weather events.
These are among the global warming concerns affecting Guam and the region, according to Lt. Gov. Joshua Tenorio, who was among the panelists at a recent forum hosted by the University of Guam public administration students.
During the two-and-a-half-hour session titled “In the Eye of the Storm: Climate Change,” eight-panel members discussed a wide range of climate-related concerns, the causes, the efforts – where they are in place - to address and mitigate climate change, and the outlook, with likely consequences of both action and inaction.
Austin Shelton, director of the Center for Island Sustainability and Sea Grant, said the island’s growing vulnerability to disasters became more real to him during Typhoon Mawar.
“For the first time, we had to have police-escorted fuel trucks going up and down our streets,” he said. “That tells me how dependent we are today on fossil fuels and imports. What happened to our islands that used to be able to get along on our own without importing 90 percent of all the food, fuel and goods that we consume?”
Making the islands less vulnerable to outside forces is a good start to local climate action initiatives, he said.
“Climate change is a clear and present danger,” Shelton said. “We do know that one of the biggest impacts that climate change is having around the world is that there is an increase in the intensity and frequency of storms.”
Sen. Sabina Perez identified threats to the northern Guam lens aquifer – the major source of Guam’s drinking water supply – as one of her biggest concerns. Rising sea levels due to global warming and a drop in annual rainfall, as predicted, could negatively affect the aquifer. Desalinization and importing water are too expensive to be practical.
“We can’t live on this island without drinking water,” she said “Water should not be a problem; it should be a resource.”
A positive development, she noted, is the implementation of the Guam Tropical Energy Code in January. The purpose of the code is to “provide minimum design requirements to achieve energy efficiency in buildings constructed in Guam,” the code states.
The code can reduce energy consumed by newly constructed buildings by at least 50 percent. “This is really critical,” she said.
Perez said she is also concerned that harmful climate conditions could occur sooner than predicted, which would require “significant adjustments.”
Nuclear power generation and deep-sea mining, both of which are being proposed in the region, carry unacceptable risks, Perez said. “We have to be careful about the solution,” she said. “That it’s not creating another problem that would be difficult to resolve.”
However, deep-sea mining licenses are “held by companies that produce minerals for renewables,” Uludong said “So the conversation needs to be taken on how countries like Palau and Guam are looking at sustainable development plans and how it will adapt and mitigate climate change.”
Evangeline Lujan, chair of Climate Change Resiliency Commission, spoke about the importance of educating the community and gathering well-informed input to determine the needs and of the people as plans for coping with climate disasters are formulated.
“It’s important to understand what we are going to have to sacrifice so that after the storm we can turn on the power right away,” she said.
The Climate Change Resiliency Commission is in the process of examining the plans of the various government agencies so they can be part of a comprehensive climate plan, she said.
Landon Aydlett, warning coordination meteorologist at the National Weather Service Guam Office, underscored the importance of education in the effort to mitigate the effects of climate change.
The Weather-Ready Nation Ambassador initiative of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration focuses on education, awareness and outreach. “That leads to an informed and prepared public,” he said. “That’s what we need to protect life and property.”
He also spoke about the impact of decreasing rainfall, which is a predicted effect of global warming. Less rainfall can lead to an increase in wildfires, which destroy the plants that hold the soil in place. The resulting erosion leads to runoff that ends up on the coral reefs, damaging them and harming other sea life.
Ngedikes Olai Uludong, Palau's ambassador on climate change, emphasized the urgency of dealing with climate change, which she termed an existential threat.
“There is no time to sit and not do what we need to do as (small island developing states),” she said. “We need to transition fast and fair and equitably. We need to transition away from fossil fuels.”
Other panelists were Roseann Jones, dean of the School of Business and Public Administration at UOG, and Ansito Walter, former governor of Chuuk and UOG professor of public administration.