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  • Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands
  • Christina Sablan (bio)

The impacts of climate change came into urgent focus for the US Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) during the period [End Page 238] under review. A report issued by the CNMI Climate Change Working Group (ccwg) identified nearly all of the villages and resources along the western coast of Saipan, the archipelago’s main island, as being critically vulnerable to sea-level rise and changes in rainfall patterns. Saipan’s western coastal plain includes natural habitat areas, residential neighborhoods, the primary business district of Garapan, many of the island’s hotels, restaurants, and shopping centers, and vital infrastructure from roads and the seaport to power facilities. The vulnerability assessment urged that climate-change considerations be prioritized for western low-lying areas and better integrated with flood-control studies and development plans. The Climate Change Working Group’s study was also part of the US Global Change Research Program’s National Climate Assessment that was submitted to the White House in May 2014; that national report highlighted sea-level rise, reduced freshwater supplies, and coral bleaching among the major climate-change threats to communities across the Pacific Islands, including the CNMI (usgcrp 2014; ccwg 2014; st, 18 Feb, 14 May, 18 June 2014).

The CNMI Climate Change Working Group consisted of representatives from approximately thirty local and federal agencies, led by the Division of Coastal Resources Management. The division’s director, Fran Castro, a longtime environmental advocate and public servant, was also elected during the period under review to chair the Pacific Regional Ocean Partnership (prop), the members of which are appointed by the governors of the CNMI, American Sāmoa, Guam, and Hawai‘i to identify coastal and ocean management priorities that require a coordinated regional response (st, 18 Feb 2014). CNMI Governor Eloy S Inos himself put a spotlight on climate change as chair of the 19th Micronesian Chief Executives Summit, which convened on Saipan in December 2013. Declaring climate change “the most common concern we share as a region,” Inos called for continued partnership among the Micronesian Island jurisdictions and nations to “demand action against large carbon emission producing nations devastatingly contributing to climate change and adversely impacting our fragile island communities” (Eugenio 2014).

The CNMI sought enhanced regional cooperation in other areas as well during the period under review, particularly with the neighboring US territory of Guam. In September 2013, Governor Inos and Guam Governor Eddie B Calvo convened the First Marianas Summit to explore issues of mutual interest, including coordination and information sharing between the two jurisdictions in managing the US military buildup (mv, 23 Sept 2013). Throughout the year, Inos sounded a markedly cautious note in his approach to military activities in the archipelago, calling for greater oversight by CNMI regulatory agencies, and raising concerns about proposed live-fire training exercises on Tinian and Pagan. Inos also objected to the proposed establishment of a divert airfield on the main island of Saipan, urging instead that the military develop its long-neglected leased land on neighboring Tinian, which comprises two-thirds of that island [End Page 239] (Inos 2014; st, 31 July 2013). The Marianas governors also discussed possibilities for a future interisland cargo and passenger ferry system and for the promotion of agricultural commerce between the islands (mv, 23 Sept 2013; st, 22 Sept 2013).

Similarly, the Mariana Islands Legislature Association (mila) held its first general assembly of Guam and CNMI lawmakers in November 2013 on Guam, with plans to rotate sessions within the Marianas archipelago as part of a new joint legislative effort to address political, social, and economic concerns shared between the two jurisdictions (pnc 2013). Among the first successful outcomes of this endeavor was the enactment of legislation in May 2014 that relaxed Guam’s quarantine rules to remove testing requirements and other restrictions deemed unnecessary or outmoded for the export of live cattle from the CNMI to Guam (st, 23 May 2014). Two months after the law was signed, the first shipment of CNMI cattle arrived on Guam, and more are expected to follow (mv, 28 July 2014).

US Federal-CNMI relations improved in some ways under the Inos administration...