Individual Paper: Cities, Climate Adaptation Planning and Climate Justice: The case of San Juan, Puerto Rico
The intersection of changes to the Earth’s climate, strategies for climate adaptation planning, and the placement of climate justice within climate planning can be viewed through the recent example of San Juan, Puerto Rico. During late September 2017 the city of San Juan and the island of Puerto Rico were practically leveled by Hurricane Maria—a Category Four storm that destroyed the city and island’s infrastructure over several days of high winds and flooding, costing Puerto Rico a projected $95 billion in lost revenue and infrastructure damage. Over one thousand lives are thought to be lost. The storm’s dramatic chaos brought into focus the complicated, colonial style political arrangement between the small island and the United States. As the world watched and the United States did initially little to help the storm’s extreme devastation on the natural and built environment revealed the intersection of climate-change related weather disaster with the need for a climate justice approach to help human populations recover from climate-related weather challenges.
The following discussion will provide historical context for the current state of climate change planning in Puerto Rico, particularly within the city of San Juan and its surrounding ecological area. That the crisis persisted despite San Juan’s involvement for over a decade in climate planning and a public commitment to sustainable adaptation strategies is the focus of the analysis here. The analysis examines San Juan adaptation planning reports and documents as well as climate reports of local climate-justice activist organizations and NGOs working within Puerto Rico prior to Hurricane Maria. Drawing upon publicly-available content of climate planning reports the analysis will examine San Juan’s efforts at anticipating and adapting to climate changes prior to the destructive storm. The documents reveal the city and surrounding area’s commitment to a climate-just approach in developing sustainable and adaptable climate planning. Despite these prior efforts at sustainable planning that acknowledged the needs of vulnerable residents by the time Hurricane Maria made landfall the storm’s wrath became the worst case scenario realized. Did San Juan and the wider island’s efforts at climate planning adaptation reproduce pre-existing inequalities? Did the vulnerability of populations within the island further intensify following the storm? What was the response capacity of the Puerto Rican state and how much of its response was shaped by its long-standing dependent relationship with the United States?
The analysis of Puerto Rico highlights three key areas of concern for analysts and policy makers regarding climate changes effects on the social and natural environment: 1) the effects of weather related devastation that generate results beyond prior planned strategies. 2) the long-standing effects of poverty and inequality that further intensify climate change outcomes for vulnerable populations. 3) the limited impact climate planning may have in moving political elites and other decision-makers towards transforming inequality and creating “climate-just” planning. The examination of the failed case of sustainable adaptation planning in Puerto Rico illuminates dynamics surrounding the influence of outside actors on state capacity for sustainability and the role of external and internal social networks in creating “climate-just” urban climate planning.
Start time: 14:30
Room: ABF (Lilla sallen)
Track: Climate Change, Climate and Environmental Justice