Roddy Heyliger: St.Maarten Needs to Plan for Climate Change

The impact of climate change will only be evident over the long term, spanning many election cycles, while the costs of preventive actions will be huge and must be paid up front. You cannot wait to see if it will happen, because then it would have already been too late, and the costs will be much more.


Sint Maarten has to start planning today for climate change. It must be placed on the political agenda today! Some may say what silliness is this, but climate change is real and it won’t be going anywhere.

Climate change: refers to the long-term shift in overall weather conditions over a period of time. The type of impact varies per country. The warming of the earth changes weather patterns, increasing the severity and frequency of extreme weather events such as floods, droughts and hurricanes. Higher temperatures causes the ice caps in the North and South poles to melt which results in an increase in sea-levels around the globe, therefore threatening low-lying areas. Other impacts will be on the natural habitats of animals and plant species, and effects on food crop production.

Everybody is aware of the investments that must be made when building a home or a business with respect to the threat that hurricanes pose to our islands. Your structure must be able to sustain a category three hurricane minimum. Hurricane Luis thought us a lesson to invest.

Planning and preparing for climate change is the same thing. However, there is a difference. The investment is made for the long-term, and for the sustainability of future generations of Sint Maarteners. It is an investment into our children and their children’s children, by maintaining a secure sustainable living environment for our future generations.

To ensure that Sint Maarten is prepared and ready for climate change threats and opportunities, a dedicated organization should be established – "Sint Maarten National Climate Change Secretariat (SNCCS). This should fall under the Office of the Prime Minister.

The objective of SNCCS is to coordinate climate change policies across government agencies and ensure that plans are prepared and progress tracked and monitored. The secretariat would also deal with climate change issues within the Kingdom and with international organizations. The SNCCS would also coordinate local mitigation and adaptation responses to climate change.

Our country is a small island with very limited natural resources. The impact of climate change, including sea level rise, will be very serious, and therefore we need to take the issue of climate change very seriously. Climate change presents opportunities, but we have to prepare for the challenges.

Climate change is not only a government issue. It is also an issue for the private sector and the non-governmental organization sector. A permanent committee on Climate Change needs to also be established by the Parliament of Sint Maarten. Parliamentarians also have a role to play in preparing the nation for the long-term impacts of climate change where investments in preparation have to start within this decade.

With respect to mitigation measures, small steps are being taken. The private sector must be commended for taking initiatives in wind and solar energy as well as LED lights to lessen our countries foot print on the environment. These are steps in the right direction to run energy efficient operations and facilities. The past UP-led Government and the current NA-led Government have indicated initiatives related to alternative clean energy solutions. The public, private and NGO sectors need to come together to develop the "Sustainable Sint Maarten Blueprint (SSxB)," an initiative that represents a national effort to reduce our energy dependence.

Besides mitigation measures, the next major effort is adaptation measures. As a low-lying, densely populated island in the tropics, we are vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. These impacts according to international studies that have been carried out are temperature extremes, heavy rainfall events, sea rise levels, stronger hurricanes etc.

If we had the SNCCS, one of the first steps would be to undertake vulnerability studies to better understand long-term physical impacts such as sea level rise, temperature increases etc would have on our country. Uncertainties remain on the extent of climate change and the timing in which it will unfold, hence the importance of having an SNCCS, and planning from now.

Sint Maarten is not immune to climate change. It is very much a concern to us and the wider Caribbean region.

Roddy Heyliger