While the entire island of Saipan will likely see some impacts from climate change in the coming decades, its west side villages and resources located between Susupe and Tanapag “are expected to be impacted the most,” based on a newly released, 100-plus page study on Saipan’s climate change vulnerability.
Saipan has varying levels of vulnerability to climate change within its villages and along its shoreline, especially its western coastal plain which hosts the majority of coastal populations, services and infrastructure.
These include hotels, restaurants, shopping centers, other tourism-related activities, and residential areas.
“Specifically, the low-lying areas, critical infrastructure, residential and commercial districts, and habitats that are located within Garapan and Lower Base should be prioritized as climate change adaptation planning moves forward in the CNMI,” the document says.
To address these vulnerabilities, the study suggests a focus on climate change “adaptation,” to identify impacts that may be unavoidable and temper any harmful effects from sea level rise and changes to rainfall patterns.
These should include the integration of sea level rise considerations into current and future flood control studies, public works projects, and assessments of proposed development impacts.
For example, the Department of Public Lands may encourage strategic landscaping along threatened beaches, or promote the rotational use of non-permanent structures for beachside recreational facilities.
Coastal vegetation and wetland growth, along with adopting revised floor hazard zoning, are also among specific examples.
Even small-scale revitalization and beautification projects offer opportunities to expand the climate change discussion into attractive community development, such as the Saipan Mayor’s Office’s 2014 “Sunset Garden” installations along Beach Road, the document says.
“While this vulnerability assessment identifies vulnerabilities and recommends adaptation priorities, effective progress and prioritization of climate change adaptation hinges on the collaboration and support of CNMI decision makers, policy makers and government agencies,” the document says.
The “Saipan Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment” is the product of a yearlong collaboration between the Division of Coastal Resources Management under the Bureau of Environmental and Coastal Quality and participating entities of the CNMI Climate Change Working Group.
The group recently presented the findings to Gov. Eloy S. Inos and other administration officials on Capital Hill.
Inos has been bringing up the issue of climate change in regional meetings. At the Micronesian Chief Executives’ Summit in December, the governors of Micronesian islands called for more U.S. help to the islands in addressing global warming, especially on “adaptation” processes.
The new document is intended as an initial screening tool for prioritization of climate adaptation work on Saipan. Use of vulnerability assessment should be limited to broad planning and policy purposes, the document says.
Over the past year-and-a-half, more than 70 individuals representing 28 different institutions have participated in the CNMI Climate Change Working Group meetings and trainings. They include local and federal agencies and organizations.
The Western North Pacific—which includes the CNMI, Guam, Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia, and the Marshall Islands—is expected to experience rising sea levels, increasing air and sea surface temperatures, and shifting precipitation patterns.
Tiny Micronesian islands bear the brunt of climate change impacts—from rising seas and disappearing coastlines, to dying crops and displacements of islanders—yet they are the least contributor, if at all, to carbon emissions and other causes.
The document also says the findings of the vulnerability assessment encourage Saipan’s stakeholders to assume responsibility for their future interests and adapt.
CNMI government agencies, it says, will need to adopt climate change as a standard consideration in project development and decision-making processes.
The Legislature, it adds, will need to evaluate policies that impact community structure, taking into account potential effects on income sources that rely on natural resources.
“This consideration also applies to the tourism industry and private enterprises in the CNMI, which are ultimately dependent on natural and physical systems that this vulnerability assessment identified as vulnerable,” the document adds.