• The San Juan Daily Star

Community leaders slam gov’t for failing to plan for climate change

Island labor leader José Rodríguez Báez

By John McPhaul

Representatives of community groups, environmentalists and the labor sector raised the alert on the attitude of the Puerto Rico government on Sunday, alleging that it is not sponsoring a serious discussion of the global problem of climate change.

The coalition made up of Juan E. Rosario (director of the AMANESER 2025 environmental group), labor leader José Rodríguez Báez, Juan Camacho (leader of the Toabajeños group in Defense of the Environment) and Roberto Thomas of the IDEBAJO group (Initiative of Jobos Bay Ecodevelopment) charged that the government is endangering the economic and social security of hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans by not diligently addressing the effects of climate change on the island.

The group convened by the Alliance for Sustainable Resource Management (AMANESER 2025), an organization that works to help create sustainable and resilient communities, expressed concern regarding the attitude of the government, especially with future projects and the management of the money available to improve the island’s infrastructure.

“We are concerned about the form and manner in which more than $1.092 billion by the Department of Housing is used,” said Juan Rosario, spokesperson for Grupo Ambiental AMENESER. “The models that the Housing Department use seem to favor a guarantee that if a hurricane similar to Maria hits us in the next two or three years, most of the residents who were without electricity for more than six months will again lack service in their homes. This is despite the fact that there are models that have been successfully tested, which cost less than half the cost of the contracts that the Department seems to favor and that can produce energy security in less than the six years proposed by Housing.”

Community consultation urged

“Without a doubt, it is essential to define more rigorously how the billion-dollar amount of federal funds is going to be used. Used well, these funds can help create more resilient and sustainable communities, more equity and ‘Climate Justice’ and a just transition for our workers,” Rosario said. “Unfortunately we are observing processes for the granting of these funds that could end up benefiting companies and contractors, many of them foreigners, and perpetuating clientelistic models that will only serve to undermine the self-management processes that have begun to flourish in many of our communities.”

It is very dangerous not to discuss the issue of climate change on the island, he said.

“Climate change will dramatically reduce food production and water supplies in the world, especially in tropical countries,” said Juan Camacho of Toabajeños in Defense of the Environment. “The process of mitigating and adapting to climate change, the introduction of new technologies and the consequent reorganization of production could displace thousands of workers, also putting at a disadvantage citizens who for economic reasons do not have access to new technologies. Since its second assessment, in 1995, the Intergovernmental Panel of Experts on Climate Change concluded that the most affected countries would be the densely populated islands in the tropical and subtropical regions. It took 24 years to pass a law to address the effects of climate change, and two years later we still have not prepared the Adaptation and Mitigation Plan that the law mandates.”

The labor sector will be the most affected, the leaders said, if the opinion of the communities is not taken into account.

“There is a real interest in the better use of federal funds, and understanding the lack of planning with transparent and democratic processes in the actions of the government,” added Rodríguez Báez, the union leader. “The result of all this is seen day by day with displaced workers, in agriculture, on the beaches, in solid waste, in water management, among others. That is why we are calling for concrete actions that guarantee a ‘Just Transition’ for workers and thus avoid mass layoffs of more than 100,000, since the measures taken to face climate change could displace thousands of workers and also residents of the communities. … But that management cannot only be carried out by the unions, the government has to assume its responsibility and integrate the communities into the decision-making and discussion of the issue.”

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