Striking a Balance Between Economic Development and Environmental Conservation in St. Maarten is Key for Our Future as a Caribbean Nation

July 4, 2023  -Dear Editor,

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to take part in BDO Dutch-Caribbean’s Panel Discussion on Sint Maarten’s need to transition into a Blue, Green and Digital Economy. Although many exciting and encouraging things were said during the event I am, as always when it comes to these sorts of things, a bit concerned that after the pretty words and good intentions the things which were said and the commitments which were made will fall on the wayside. Which would be a shame.

As St. Maarten, hopefully, strives to transition to a green, blue, digital, and resilient economy, it is crucial to strike a balance between economic development and environmental conservation. This delicate equilibrium requires a comprehensive approach that considers the needs and concerns of local communities, promotes collaboration between the government and private sector, and leverages the unique natural resources and biodiversity of this island which we call home.

First and foremost, we must increase the aligning of our national efforts with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which provide a solid framework for integrating economic, social, and environmental dimensions of development. By setting clear targets and working towards achieving these goals, St. Maarten can ensure a balanced approach to our (sustainable) development.

Emphasizing the development and implementation of blue and green technologies and innovation is another essential strategy. By encouraging the adoption of sustainable practices and investing in research and development, St. Maarten can drive economic growth while minimizing its environmental impact.

Promoting a circular economy is also crucial. This entails minimizing waste, encouraging a reduction of our solid waste (and finally implementing a ban on single-use plastics. I am all about communication and inclusion but the data has shown that the only effective way to reduce plastic waste is a top-down ban; once plastic is available it will be used no matter how conscientious the consumer) and using resources efficiently throughout the production and consumption cycle. By transitioning towards a circular economy, St. Maarten can reduce its ecological footprint and create a more sustainable future.

Accelerating the adoption of renewable energy sources, such as solar, wind, and hydropower, is paramount. Offering incentives for businesses and individuals to invest in renewable energy infrastructure, while phasing out subsidies for fossil fuels, can drive the transition towards a cleaner and more sustainable energy system.

Sustainable forest management and supporting responsible agricultural practices play a vital role in conservation efforts. By implementing sustainable practices like organic farming, agroforestry, and precision agriculture, St. Maarten can preserve biodiversity and ecosystem services while supporting local food production.

Protecting and restoring natural habitats, including forests, wetlands, and marine ecosystems, will be crucial for preserving biodiversity. Establishing protected areas and promoting sustainable tourism practices can ensure the long-term sustainability of these ecosystems while providing economic opportunities for the local community. Unfortunately I must remind the reader that Sint Maarten is the only island in the region without a protected area on land.

Additionally, implementing strong environmental regulations and standards is essential to hold businesses accountable for their environmental impact. Offering incentives such as tax breaks, grants, and subsidies can encourage companies to adopt sustainable practices and contribute to the green transition. These should be offered to businesses and individuals that make the effort to be ‘green’ or ‘blue’ and not to the gambling sector for example, regardless of casino bosses political patronage.

Raising awareness among individuals, communities, and businesses about the importance of environmental conservation and the benefits of a green economy is also crucial. Promoting environmental education and encouraging sustainable lifestyles can drive behavior change and foster a culture of sustainability, something which Sint Maarten desperately needs.

Also; collaboration and partnerships are key to the success of the green transition. By involving governments, businesses, civil society organizations, and academia in decision-making processes, St. Maarten can ensure that diverse perspectives are considered and sustainable strategies are developed and implemented. By encouraging investments in ‘green’  and ‘blue’ projects and businesses through financial mechanisms like green bonds, blue carbon offset schemes, and sustainable investment funds, St. Maarten can attract the necessary capital to drive sustainable development.

In addition to addressing the broader transition to a ‘green’ and ‘blue’ economy, it is crucial to consider the needs and concerns of local communities, especially vulnerable populations. Engaging and involving these communities from the outset through stakeholder engagement, community assessments, and capacity-building initiatives is vital for an inclusive transition.

Finally, tailoring laws, policies and programs to address the unique circumstances and preferences of local communities and vulnerable populations is essential. By ensuring affordability, accessibility, and cultural relevance, St. Maarten can create an enabling environment for these communities to participate fully in the green economy. We also need to increase the effectiveness of our legal systems; Sint Maarten has no requirement for Environmental Impact Assessments, again one of the few islands in the region to not have one. And finally the Beach and Hillside Policy should be enacted into law so as to ensure that our beaches are free of harmful economic activity and accessible to all of our population and not just a select few. And of course our hillside policy should also be translated into law which must include a terrestrially protected area so as to ensure that the goods and services provided by our land can benefit our future generations and will not run the risk of being turned into another hot, concrete stain on our beautiful island of Sint Maarten.

Tadzio Bervoets

Conservation Professional Ebenezer, Sint Maarten

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