Letter to the Editor: Urgent Call for Environmental Leadership in Sint Maarten’s Upcoming Snap Elections

July 10, 2024  Dear Editor,

With the snap elections set for August 19th, 2024, it is crucial for the residents of Sint Maarten to thoroughly evaluate the candidates and political parties vying for our votes. Our island’s future depends on the decisions we make today, especially regarding environmental sustainability and sustainable development.

So far, very little candidates have shown a clear focus on sustainable development and environmental conservation. There is a concerning lack of a climate change resilience and adaptation plan for Sint Maarten, including a structured proposal for sustainable energy using renewable resources, which is critical given the current energy crisis. Additionally, there are no clear strategies for how we will become resilient to climate change through a National Climate Change Adaptation and Response Plan. This is especially worrying considering the impacts of unprecedented hurricanes like Beryl in the Caribbean and the anticipation of a long, difficult hurricane season.

We need to look beyond just individual candidates and focus on the platforms and track records of the political parties they represent. It is essential to prioritize those committed to sustainable development and nature conservation, focusing on long-term benefits rather than short-term, unsustainable gains. Sint Maarten is one of the few islands in the Caribbean without protected nature areas on land. Establishing these protected areas is vital to preserving our unique biodiversity and boost sustainable development for our country.

Similarly, compared to other Caribbean islands, Sint Maarten is lagging in implementing Environmental and Social Impact Assessment laws. Our current focus on building unsustainable structures without considering environmental and social impacts is causing us to fall behind in valuing and preserving our natural resources for economic development.

Unrestrained, unsustainable development is also negatively impacting our communities, affecting not only our energy grid and natural environment but also our traditional communities. Just ask the residents of Simpson Bay village about the impacts they are currently facing, considering how permits for large-scale developments have been issued without any social or environmental impact assessments to identify the impacts on residents who often struggle to make a living. This lack of foresight is eroding the very fabric of our communities.

Candidates and parties advocating for Blue and Green Economies, which emphasize sustainable development and nature conservation while integrating our cultural heritage for the orange economy, deserve our serious consideration. We must support leaders who recognize the threats posed by climate change and are committed to developing a resilient strategy for Sint Maarten, protecting our way of life as Caribbean people.

We need to shift our tourism focus towards eco-tourism, rather than solely increasing cruise ship passengers or airlift. Electing leaders who understand the importance of green spaces for local flora and fauna and their contributions to our well-being is essential for the island’s long-term sustainability.

I urge everyone to carefully examine party manifestos and governing programs, prioritizing candidates that champion nature conservation, sustainable development, green, blue, and orange economies, regional integration, climate change adaptation, and sustainable tourism. Our votes should support those who prioritize people and the planet over personal or private profit, recognizing the importance of conservation and cultural development.

Transforming the Beach Policy and the Hillside Policy into enforceable laws is also critical to ensure the sustainable management of these ecosystems, protecting us from flooding, landslides, and restricted access to our beaches, which are our most vital natural resources.

As we approach the elections, let us vote for parties and candidates who prioritize the environment and people over personal gain or empty political rhetoric. We need leaders committed to shaping our country sustainably, protecting our land, and fostering development that benefits all. Let us ensure that Sint Maarten remains a beautiful and thriving home for future generations.

Sincerely,

Tadzio Bervoets

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