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Regional leaders discuss climate changes

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It's considered the first of its kind and today leaders from territories and Freely Associated States joined United States officials to discuss impacts to climate change in our region. Climate change, preparedness and resilience - it's not only a priority of President Barack Obama but the Department of the Interior.

"It is clear that given the complexity of climate change, that it's important for the United States to better coordinate all of their resources, the office of insular affairs cannot do it alone, so what we have gathered today is a variety of agencies who are critically important for some of the issues that are impacting our island community," said Assistant Secretary for Insular Areas Esther Kia'aina. Joined island leaders from Guam, the territories and the freely associated states to engage in the dialogue for the first climate change stakeholder meeting for the US insular areas."

She added, "We have to assess where we are, what resources available and how we need to move forward collectively to ensure again, that by the end of 2016, each insular areas should have a vulnerability assessment and/or climate adaptation plan in place so that they could better address climate change issues in their jurisdiction as well as have the tool necessary to secure increased funding."

In fact, Kia'aina says not only has President Obama committed $7 million in the Fiscal Year 2016 budget for these issues, but she intends to reach out to all federal agencies as well. Nearly 90 officials from the territories and federal agencies joined high education institutions and key non-governmental for the two-day stakeholder meeting. Governor Kenneth Mapp from the US Virgin Islands says addressing climate change is critical as it impacts the quality of life, especially in the territories. "For example," she said, "in the Virgin Islands, we are highly dependent on tourism and when the sea levels rise, its affects and erodes beaches. When we have different changes and cycles in the rain, it does affect issues with dengue and growth of mosquitoes and the affect."

And just like the US Virgin Islands, Guam is also dependent on tourism. Governor Eddie Calvo says the meeting has been a highly educational experience. He says while Guam has had its shares of natural disasters, he's learned from the other insular areas have had it worst, noting, "Then on the other side, it's an opportunity for us, we've seen what we can do in adaptation and mitigation."

As far as adapting to climate change and addressing the issues, Governor Calvo recently signed an executive order in setting up a climate change task force."And with that, with this vulnerability assessment now and this will take some time and I look forward to working with our partners in the federal government, putting this assessment together and now the solutions, what do we do in areas of mitigation and unfortunately things are already happening, how do we adapt to it as well," he said.

In the meantime, Kia'aina says addressing climate change may also impact the potential of increased migration with regards to the Compact Agreement. She says the two issues are relevant because it helps with resiliency strategies in the affected areas in order to improve the quality of life.

The meeting continues on Friday at The Hyatt.

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