Future of Bonaire: Greenpeace review on the impacts of climate change on the Dutch Caribbean island Bonaire

Bonaire or Boneiru, as it is known in Papiamentu, is a Dutch Caribbean island. An island full of heritage, gorgeous sunset views and a place that thousands of people call home.

Bonaire is located in the Leeward Antilles in the Caribbean Sea, 80 kilometers off the coast of Venezuela. The distance between Bonaire and Amsterdam, the capital city of the Netherlands, is roughly 7800 kilometers. Bonaire is 288 square kilometers. If you have never been to Bonaire, imagine an island half the size of the Dutch island of Terschelling or the same size as Ameland.

However, a lot more people live on Bonaire. According to CBS, in 2022, there were almost 23,000 people living on Bonaire1 - compared to 4,000 on Ameland. This is growing rapidly because Bonaire is becoming increasingly more popular, with tourists and people from the Dutch mainland and the United States moving to the island. When you drive around Bonaire, you experience this immediately. There are lots of construction sites and the roads are busy. Everywhere you go, you see more houses, hotels and resorts being built.

There are two cities on Bonaire. Kralendijk, which is the capital city, and the village of Rincón. The essential infrastructure of the Island is there to not only support the more than 20,000 people living on the island, but also to accommodate all the tourists coming to the island and enable them to enjoy the beautiful nature of Bonaire. As well as the Flamingo Airport in Kralendijk, there is a large pier that allows cargo ships and cruise ships to dock. The island also has its own waste processing, and energy and water infrastructure. A lot is taking place on this small island.

Nowadays, tourism is a huge part of Bonaire’s economy, whereas in the past salt production was elemental to the island. This is a big part of Bonaire’s colonial history, and when slavery was prohibited, the salt mining was too. However, the production in the salt pans was started back up again in 1966, when it was sold to an American company. Currently, the salt industry is in the hands of Cargill, a Canadian Company. In 2016, over 40 people were working for Cargill on Bonaire2 .

From 1954 until 2010, Bonaire was part of the Netherlands Antilles, a country in the Kingdom of the Netherlands. In 2010, the Netherlands Antilles were dissolved. Bonaire, together with the islands Saba and Sint Eustatius, became special municipalities of the Netherlands. Since then, the national government of Bonaire has been the Dutch government in the Hague. As a special municipality, there are a number of things that make Bonaire different from an ordinary municipality, let’s say like Volendam. The most obvious one is that Bonaire, Saba and Sint Eustatius, nowadays referred to as the Caribbean Netherlands, do not belong to one of the twelve Dutch provinces or to one of the socalled waterschappen, the regional authorities in the Netherlands that are in charge of water management.

Even though there might be differences in the way Bonaire, Saba and Sint Eustatius are governed, the inhabitants of the three islands have the same human rights as all Dutch citizens. The Dutch government needs to guarantee and protect, for example, Bonairians’ right to life and family life. These rights are defined by the European Convention on Human Rights3 .

Climate change is a danger to human rights all over the world. This begs the question: is the Dutch government taking sufficient action to prevent the worst impacts of climate change on the Caribbean Netherlands? And does it give equal protection from the impacts of global warming to the citizens of the Caribbean Netherlands as it does to the citizens of the European Netherlands?

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