Muskaan Khemani (C), Oriana Wouters (A), Riddhi Samtani (S)
Muskaan is from Curaçao, Oriana is from Aruba, Riddhi is from St Maarten. The three youth activists are representing their islands in unofficial capacities at COP28, and they are championing their islands to be included in climate change negotiations. Their local interest and efforts have gained them a sponsored position by the Caribbean Climate Justice Leaders Academy via Island Innovation and Open Society Foundation to attend COP28 together with 7 other Caribbean island changemakers.
The Kingdom of Netherlands includes the European Netherlands and also certain areas of the Caribbean. Curaçao, Aruba, and St. Maarten (CAS) islands are constituent countries of the Kingdom of Netherlands, while Bonaire, St. Eustatius, and Saba (BES) are special municipalities of the Kingdom of Netherlands. CAS islands have autonomous ruling, but the islands rely on the Netherlands for foreign policy and defense matters.
The CAS islands face very different and in many ways urgent and severe impacts, yet, the relationship with the European mainland reduces access to funding within the Kingdom. International negotiations and mechanisms tend to overlook the Dutch Caribbean because the Netherlands, classified as an Annex 1 developed country within the EU bloc, is the official operating legal body for the entire Kingdom. Under the classification of the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, the three islands are classified as Small Island Developing States (SIDS).
As it relates to matters of climate change, the CAS islands do not have official local representation in the international negotiations this year, or in years past for that matter. Rather, representatives from the European Netherlands represent the entire Kingdom in the negotiating rooms under the wider EU bloc umbrella. While this is mainly due to the fact that the CAS islands have not ratified the UNFCCC (1992), the Kyoto Protocol, or the Paris Agreement, the islands are demonstrating a great effort in implementing their climate mitigation actions through a localized identity approach because they are being impacted by climate change every day.
The biggest climate change disaster in the Kingdom was Hurricane Irma and Maria on Sint Maarten in 2017, the strongest hurricane to ever hit the Atlantic Ocean. 95% of the island was decimated with almost 2 billion dollars in loss and damages. As tourism-dependent islands, tourism flow depends on climate and meteorological factors that push tourists to other destinations (Oduber, 2020; Alberts, 2020, Suradi, 2019). Excessive rain and high temperatures affect tourist decision-making, stimulating them to go to other destinations. Additionally, excessive rain events heighten the risk of vector-borne diseases which impact the islands’ health and economy. These include: dengue, zika and chikungunya. During this past year, heavier precipitation patterns have caused physical damage to households, businesses, and other infrastructure in the ABC islands.
Additionally, the relationship within the Kingdom hinders international cooperation with the continent of South America, especially Venezuela, which offered a buffer to external shocks. Historically, this relationship has formed the foundation for food and goods resilience and has been a significant part of the islands’ culture and island human development.
Without local representation to highlight these realities, the CAS islands are left behind in the negotiations. This leaves them limited to access and ineligible for international developmental aid, loans on the global market, and other grant schemes, mainly through various international frameworks including, UNFCCC, Paris Agreement (which in this case also applies to the historic ‘Loss and Damage Fund” of COP27) and the UN Sustainable Developments Goals (SDG). These rigorous international frameworks, mainly developed in the Global North mindset, put additional strain on the Global South and do not consider the Global North’s economic success which historically has been founded on inequality (e.g. colonialism, war, slavery, and modern-day slavery).
As youth representatives, we are aiming to shed light on our islands and include them in consideration during the COP28 climate change talks. We are honored to share the unique challenges we face, the resources that we are missing to support climate resilience, and the local solutions we champion. Approaching the negotiations through a decolonized framework is important, and we will champion that mindset throughout the conference.