Firefighters battle a large wildfire near LeoPalace Resort in 2018. Beyond the direct threat to safety, fires produce fine particles and smoke that have health consequences, especially for those with respiratory conditions. (Photo courtesy of Guam Department of Agriculture, Forestry Division).
Hotter weather, risks to freshwater supplies, coral reef death, and stronger typhoons are among the major challenges detailed in a new report on climate change in Guam, led by members of CPO’s Pacific Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessment team (Pacific RISA) and co-supported by CPO’s Assessments Program. According to the report, threatened resources include high-value coastal infrastructure and the millions of dollars that ocean ecosystems add to Guam’s economy annually.
“Climate change is one of the greatest issues this generation is facing, and how we adapt as an island should be based on the best available information and sound science,” said Guam Governor Lou Leon Guerrero. “We are pleased to have this resource to better inform policy and decision-making, so that we may safeguard our critical infrastructure, protect our economy, improve food security, and prepare for increased droughts and wildfires. That is why I have created a Climate Change and Resiliency Commission to provide a strategy for Guam to address the impacts of climate change to our island.”
The report, Climate Change in Guam: Indicators and Considerations for Key Sectors, builds upon the Fourth National Climate Assessment, offering a closer look at climate change impacts in Guam and providing information for a wide range of sectors. It is one in a series of new reports prepared by the Pacific Islands Regional Climate Assessment (PIRCA), a consortium of several government, NGO, and research entities. Authors from the University of Guam and the East-West Center—along with more than 30 technical contributors from local governments, NGOs, researchers, and community groups—collaboratively developed the report.
Climate Change in Guam lays out the changes Guam is already experiencing, as well as what lies ahead. The key messages for decision-makers include:
- Temperatures have risen in Guam, and hotter days and nights affect human health. Heat waves can exacerbate a range of pre-existing health issues, and hot weather poses a particular threat to children and elderly people.
- Stronger tropical storms and typhoons are expected globally and around Guam. More intense tropical cyclones that pack higher wind speeds and more rainfall mean a greater potential for loss of life and damage from these storms.
- Freshwater supplies are at risk. Already, droughts periodically deplete water sources in southern Guam. The combination of possible increased demand for water in hotter weather, more frequent drought, and sea level rise threaten to bring saltwater contamination into wells in northern Guam that supply drinking water.
- Sea level rise threatens infrastructure, including housing and transportation, as well as ecosystems and cultural sites. A 2019 vulnerability assessment forecast that rising sea levels will expose at least 58 percent of Guam’s infrastructure to periodic flooding during this century. Guam and other Pacific Islands will experience sea level rise higher than the global average.
- Oceans are warming, causing coral bleaching that is already widespread and severe. Extensive coral loss is possible within the next few decades if current trends in rising ocean temperatures continue. Coral reefs provide habitat for fish, coastal protection from storms, and inject hundreds of millions of dollars annually into the local economy.
The Guam Climate Change Resiliency Commission, the University of Guam, the Pacific Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessments (Pacific RISA), and the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Pacific Islands Climate Adaptation Science Center (PI-CASC) jointly held a workshop in October 2019 to gather knowledge that informed the Guam PIRCA report. The collective efforts of the technical contributors, coordinating authors, and PIRCA Advisory Committee made the report possible.
PIRCA is funded and supported by the CPO’s RISA Program (through the Pacific RISA), the East-West Center’s Research Program, the PI-CASC, and the U.S. Global Change Research Program.
This article was adapted from a press release written by the East-West Center.