RESIDENTS and Dutch citizens of Bonaire, together with Greenpeace Netherlands, have launched a legal action over the government’s failure to protect the Caribbean island against climate change impacts. Bonaire, a former Dutch colony, has been a special Dutch municipality since 2010.
According to the seven individual plaintiffs the state is negligent in protecting them from climate change and violates their human rights. They demand that the Netherlands meets its fair share when it comes to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, and that the island of Bonaire is better protected against climate change impacts.
A scientific report by Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam last year showed that the climate crisis is already affecting the daily lives of people in the Caribbean and will have severe impacts on the island of Bonaire unless strong measures are taken.
A pre-litigation ‘letter before action’ was delivered to Prime Minister Rutte in The Hague as a final warning before the Dutch State is taken to court.Representatives of the Caribbean diaspora in the European Netherlands and Greenpeace Netherlands were present at Rutte’s office and held a banner reading: ‘We demand justice – Climate Case Bonaire’.
Speaking from Bonaire, the plaintiffs emphasised their demand for climate justice and a safe future for their island. Teacher Jackie Bernabela said: “I can see how climate change is already impacting Bonaire, even though we are a small island and hardly emit any greenhouse gases. So far, the national government in The Hague has not listened to us. Without pressure on the government in The Hague, nothing will change on Bonaire.”
Social worker Danique Martis said: “It is important that the Dutch government takes responsibility. There are plans to protect the European Netherlands against sea-level rise, but for Bonaire this is not yet the case. We demand climate justice.” Gardener Onnie Emerenciana added: “Residents of Bonaire should not be treated as second-rate Dutch citizens, we are entitled to be treated equally.”
The Executive Director of Greenpeace Netherlands, Andy Palmen, said: “It should not matter whether you live on Bonaire, in The Hague or in Amsterdam. The government has a duty to protect all municipalities from floods and other life-threatening consequences of the climate crisis. So far, the national government chooses not to protect the residents of Bonaire, even though it is desperately needed. That’s why today, together with people of Bonaire, we are holding the Dutch State accountable. The Netherlands has a duty to limit global warming as much as possible to contribute to climate justice for people alive today as well as future generations. We demand that Bonaire be better protected and that Dutch CO2 emissions be reduced more quickly.”
It makes a fundamental difference whether the world manages to stay below 1.5 degrees of global warming, especially for small islands like Bonaire. The plaintiffs therefore demand that the Dutch State contributes its fair share to limit global warming below 1.5 degrees and that emissions from the Netherlands are reduced to zero by 2040.
Minke de Haan, of Amsterdam law firm Kennedy van der Laan, representing the individual plaintiffs and Greenpeace Netherlands, said: “So far, the government does not seem to be heeding the call for concrete action for the Dutch Caribbean islands, and policies that will enable us to stay below 1.5 degrees global warming. While we would like to be surprised, we do not expect this to suddenly change as a result of this pre-litigation letter, and so we will continue to prepare a writ of summons for a lawsuit against the Dutch State.”
The Bonaire climate case is part of a global climate justice movement, led by residents of coastal areas, island nations and other affected communities. Despite having contributed the least to the climate crisis, they are already facing disproportionate climate impacts. An increasing number of communities are experiencing loss of health, lives, homes and livelihoods. Communities all over the world are successfully using the law to demand real climate action and hold governments and polluting corporations to account.
Bonaire is located almost 8,000 kilometres from the capital of the Netherlands. The Netherlands has been present on the Caribbean island for almost four hundred years. Since the dissolvement of the Netherlands Antilles in 2010, Bonaire has been a special municipality of the Netherlands.
* Source: Greenpeace International