Published On: Wed, Dec 20th, 2023

St. Maarten continues to ignore climate change threats

PHILIPSBURG — Climate activist Riddhi Samtani asked attention for St. Maarten during the recently concluded United Nations climate conference in Dubai, wondering why her island cannot get help from climate funds while the people living on the island do experience the effect of climate change.

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The international fund for the support of poor countries that have not contributed a lot to climate change was launched during the conference in Dubai. But St. Maarten cannot call on this fund for assistance, Samtani said in an interview with a Dutch radio station. Caribisch Netwerk reported about Samtani’s outcry for help.

Local politicians have mostly ignored the potential effect of climate change on St. Maarten, even though everybody was forewarned about a bleak future in a report published by the Nature Foundation almost ten years ago, in May 2014.

If seawater levels continue to rise, Philipsburg, the international airport, the cruise terminal, all beaches and large parts of St. Maarten’s territory will disappear under water between twenty and fifty years from now, the report stated. In the meantime, nine years have passed and politicians have not even debated the issue. The Governor’s Symposium put it on the agenda in 2018 with an event entitled Climate Change and Small Island States, but this did not trigger any wake up call.

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The Nature Foundation report contains a map showing that the Lowlands threaten to become a separate island.

“Climate change will have serious consequences for St. Maarten,” the report states. “Rising sea water levels will result in an invasion of up to now unknown species and in damage to coral reefs. These are crucial habitats for endangered species of sea turtles.”

The Nature Foundation considered its report as a new action plan for climate change. So far, politicians have not taken any action. The report concedes that there are several options to soften the effect of climate change but it predominantly focused on the protection of eco systems and not on saving Philipsburg or its airport.

Riddhi Samtani revived the significance of climate change at the climate conference in Dubai, saying that the Netherlands ought to present an approach for the whole kingdom to make all six islands of the former Netherlands Antilles more resilient against rising sea water levels, heat and extreme weather. “Climate change is not affecting only a part of the kingdom, it affects us all,” she is quoted as saying by Caribisch Netwerk.

Daphne Misiedjan who teaches human rights and environment at Erasmus University in Rotterdam confirms that the Caribbean islands are not part of climate plans for European Netherlands.

St. Maarten and the other island depend on the Netherlands for financing because the kingdom is considered as one rich country.

Misiedjan: “On the one hand the Netherlands says that the islands have to do it themselves, but from the perspective of international law people say: no, you have to do this together because you are one kingdom.”

St. Maarten cannot get help from the United Nations; assistance from the European Union is only possible up to a certain level. The Hague is of the opinion that it is up to St. Maarten to take action, because it is an autonomous country. Misiedjan: “This is why it is important that the Netherlands takes certain measures.”