Again, during another unfortunate election cycle, the environment, sustainable development and conservation are taking a backseat amidst the current political discourse engulfing our country. This despite our country needing to develop amidst the uncertainties which we will face due to a changing global climate. Sint Maarten needs a Green New Deal. Democrats in the American House are doing it. The European Parliament is in the process of implementing it, yet here we are on our beautiful rock in the Caribbean dragging our toes in the sand. During this ‘Silly Season’ of political discourse I have yet to come across a party platform where the conservation of the environment, the protection of natural areas and species, the move towards sustainable energy, the placing of sustainable social, environmental and economic development are a central tenet. There are a few candidates who, to be fair, have pushed certain elements of sustainability, climate change resiliency and conservation as a fragment of their campaigning, but definitely not enough.
What could a Sint Maarten Green New Deal look like? The conservation of natural areas, ecosystem habitat and species should be a priority moving forward. Especially considering the experiences we’ve had over the past two and a half years. We have yet to fully grasp what a changing climate will have on the way of life of the country’s population. The impact it will have on our single-pillar economy.
The protection of areas from overdevelopment and the implementation of a holistic zoning plan should be top priority. One can see what happens when decisions are taken without the necessary input and consultation by all stakeholders. What happens when decisions are taken without due consideration for the link between environmental and social impacts. Sandy Ground was heavily impacted by Irma because of the sandbank which was dredged in Marigot Bay decades ago, reducing the coastal protection function of the habitat and causing that particular community to be inundated, forcing the metropolitan French government to implement a one-sided plan resulting in civil and political unrest. That should be our take-home lesson in this age of climate change.
In the South we are faced with issues magnified by the political chess pawn land-use issues are. The Hillside Policy is a case in point. The Policy expired in 2014 and while at the Nature Foundation we had numerous meetings appealing to the legislative and executive branches to extend the policy into hillside conservation legislation or through a ministerial decree or at the very least accept the resolutions for extension until a legal framework is adapted to establish the areas as protected. This of course never happened because of chronic non-existent political will or interest. And we are also still waiting on legislation that would effectively conserve and manage our most critical natural resource; our beaches.
The ban on single use plastics needs to finally become a reality. It has been discussed for too long. And the attendance by members of Parliament to the meeting discussing the ban has shown that this is still not a political priority. But it is an environmental one. And it should be a social one. A ban on single use plastic items will go a long way in solving our solid waste management issues.
There has also been mention of implementing an environmental levy. In my experience in the region being involved with environmental financial mechanisms this has to be done carefully and completely transparent. Will it go towards the structural funding of foundations such as the Nature Foundation and Environmental Protection in the Caribbean (EPIC) that actually execute conservation management and biodiversity conservation on the ground? Foundations that struggle to cover their expenses while simultaneously working tirelessly to execute the activities that are crucial to the sustainability of the island? Will it go towards the developing and reinforcing of legislation which makes the implementation of Environmental Impact Assessments for large scale developments mandatory? Will it go towards the revamping of the VROMI inspection department so that it can actually inspect and control environmental infractions? Will it go towards the subsidizing of alternatives to single use plastics and the import of such, providing economic incentives to small business owners to use biodegradable material? Will it go towards the development and implementation of green energy?
A proposal for an environmental levy is great, but they have previously resulted in increased revenue stream for a disinterested and disengaged government while not supporting environmental and ecosystem conservation activities. So specifics are in this case critical when law proposals are tabled during an election cycle. But, if done correctly, such an incentive can be used to get rid of an antiquated and inefficient tax system such as the Turn over Tax. If managed transparently it could be the proper fiscal mechanism to support green initiatives and to drive a Blue and Green economy, something I have not heard mentioned once during this whole election cycle.
Finally, I always judge people on how they treat non-human beings, for the true measure of character is how one treats the voiceless and helpless. It would be amazing if one of the candidates for this election would place focus on the care of helpless and homeless animals. That there would be strong legislation in place which would make it illegal and punishable to mistreat animals. If organizations which support animal welfare are subsidized and empowered.
In the meantime, as you try to filter through the noise and the fluff to look for a candidate that has the interest of Sint Maarten’s environment and by extension its people at heart, sign the Green Initiatives’ Less Plastic More SXM petition by visiting https://www.change.org/p/less-plastic-more-sxm. I wish you the best of luck exercising this most sacred of democratic privileges.