Published On: Sat, Jun 16th, 2018

Climate change threatens St. Maarten’s existence

Governor Eugene Holiday - 20180615 HH

PHILIPSBURG – “We are among the most vulnerable Caribbean tourists destinations between 25 and 50 years from now,” Governor Drs. Eugène Holiday said in his opening address at the seventh annual Governor’s Symposium about the impact of climate change on Friday morning. Experts presented a bleak picture of St. Maarten’s future due to rising sea levels, stronger and more frequent hurricanes and periods of serious droughts.

Joseph Isaac, head of St. Maarten’s Meteorological Department presented a number of options to mitigate the impact of natural disasters. “Build seawalls, improve drainage systems and amend building codes,” he said. “Every dollar spent on mitigation will save $3 to $5 on the impact of climate change.”

Isaac also mentioned land use planning, improving data collections and the establishment of a network of weather and radar stations.

Cédric van Meerbeeck, a meteorologist at the Caribbean Institute for Meteorology and Hydrology presented an alarming scenario – something St. Maarten will have to deal with in the next couple of decades. By the end of the century, temperatures will have increased between 1 and 5 degrees Celcius and the drying trend is 25-30 percent per year. “There will be a 15 percent increase in the frequency of warm days and nights and a 1 percent increase in the temperature on the hottest day. The heatwave season will become longer and more intense and droughts will also become more intense.”

According to Michael Taylor, the deputy dean of the faculty of science at the University of the West indies, 30 to 98 percent of all days in the year will be hot by 2090 and only 2 percent will be cool.

Effect sea level rise - 201807615 HH

The sea level is currently rising by 3.5 millimeter per year. that may not sound alarming, but by the end of the century is could rise by between one and two meters. As a report published by the Nature Foundation in 2013 already indicated, rising sea levels will wipe all of St. Maarten’s beaches in the next 20 to 50 years, flood the airport and the harbor and all other low lying parts of the island, including Simpson Bay. The Lowlands will at a certain moment become a separate island.

“I believe we are running out of time in terms of taking measures,” Governor Holiday said. Most speakers that appeared on stage during the symposium agreed: the time to act is now.

The governor proposed a governing agenda to deal with the imminent impact of climate change. One proposal is to establish a climate change unit; another to develop and implement a climate change agenda as part of a regional and international agenda.

Governor Holiday also considers increased investments in greater energy and infrastructure resilience combined with environmental sustainable solutions as an option.

“By acting now we can save the day for future generations,” the governor remarked.

Prime Minister Leona Romeo-Marlin labeled climate change as “a threat to our economy and our well-being. We must be pro-active and use make all efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change. We must act now to strengthen our resilience,” the PM said.

Windward Islands Bank director Derek Downes shared that opinion: “Postponement of action is not an option; it will lead to higher costs.”

Downes urged the government to establish a disaster relief fund, to improve and build coastal defenses and enhance drainage systems. Other points brought forward by the bank director are improving and enforcing building codes, modernizing and enforcing environmental protection, improving healthcare systems and build climate-proof water storage systems.

Top photo caption: Governor Holiday: “By acting now we can save the day for future generations.” Photo Hilbert Haar.

Mid photo caption: The effect of rising sea levels will be disastrous for St. Maarten in the long run: the Lowlands will become a separate island and Simpson Bay and many other low lying places will disappear under water, along with all of our beaches. Photo Hilbert Haar. Click on image to enlarge.


Read the complete opening speech by The Governor of Sint Maarten, His Excellency drs. Eugene B. Holiday here>>>

Opinion piece by Hilbert Haar: “A Delta Plan for St. Maarten