Epic: Less talk and more action on environmental lawsPOSTED: 07/24/12 1:00 PM
St. Maarten – Environmentalists are hoping that St. Maarten’s participation in the recently concluded Rio +20 Summit in Brazil was more than just a vacation at the expense of tax payer dollars. Environmental Protection in Caribbean’s (EPIC) Public Relations Office Rueben J. Thompson said that he was heartened and “actually very surprised” to learn that Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams attended the conference put on by the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) in June. The earth summit, as it usually called, concluded with a strongly worded declaration that governments swiftly implement environmental laws and work in tandem with the private sector on sustainable development initiatives.
“Very little is done once our representatives come back home and this has been the case of successive governments over the years after they would have attended these major conferences,” Thompson noted.
He hopes that this time around it will be different since environmental organizations have been pushing for environmental legislation to be implemented for decades. The laws that groups like EPIC, the St. Maarten Pride Foundation, Dolphin Defenders and the Nature Foundation want focus of the island’s wetlands, marine community, natural and cultural heritage.
“We have seen very little improvement in the protection of our heritage.”
Thompson has concluded that “the vision of our political leaders is still very short term. He bases the view on approval for the development of a section of the Emilio Wilson Estate as an amusement park and the building of a causeway over the Simpson Bay Lagoon.
“It is about making money now at the cost of the wellbeing of our natural heritage. Our natural heritage forms the basis of our one pillar economy”
Thompson forecasted that the economy would soon be affected if the “government continues to systematically destroy the environment.”
Thompson added that his office has not received any direct information from the Prime Minister’s office regarding her attendance at the Rio +20 Conference but he’d welcome the opportunity to engage the leader of government on implementing some of the conclusions of the summit. The prime minister is currently attending another international conference, this time in Washington D.C where she will be one of the featured speakers at the 19th International Aids Conference.
During Rio +20, UNEP committed to assisting national governments on the promotion, development and implementation of environmental laws at all level and to strengthen national environmental governance. Thompson believes that St. Maarten ought to take advantage of this opportunity.
He lauded the efforts of the private sector in taking the initiative to invest in wind and solar energy and the small but significant changes that many individuals have made to change their the personal waste management strategies. However government still needs to take the lead role in sustainable development, Thompson believes.
“Government needs to step up and implement legislation and subsidize certain activities by the private sector.”
One recommendation already in the halls of the parliament is a ban on all plastic bags given out in stores and supermarkets with the option to have reusable bags or boxes sold instead.
Environmental organizations are also concerned that they are the primary source of environmental education in the schools.
“Environmental education is not on the school curriculum,” Thompson noted.