Separate but Equal in the Protection against Climate Change? The Legal Framework of Climate Justice for the Caribbean Part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands

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The experiences of overseas territories and how their varying degrees of self-governance influence climate (in)action are overlooked topics. Even though these places are often highly impacted by climate change. Analyzing the situation of the Dutch Kingdom demonstrates some of these challenges. The Kingdom consists of European Netherlands and the Caribbean islands of Aruba, Curacao, St. Maarten, Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba. Out of these, the Caribbean islands are the most vulnerable to climate change while the European Netherlands has contributed the most to it. This can be seen as climate injustice. Access to mitigation and adaptation mechanisms mentioned in international agreements could be beneficial to these Caribbean islands. However, the international climate change agreements have only entered into force for the European part of the Kingdom and not the Caribbean part due to a territorial limitation. This has several consequences, and this article highlights two. Firstly, the requirement that greenhouse gas emissions should be reduced does not apply to the islands. Which leaves room for unsustainable activities, but it also overlooks their need for adaptation and compensation for loss and damage. Secondly, access to climate finance instruments is limited as the Dutch Caribbean islands are seen as part of the Kingdom and therefore do not qualify for international assistance. Within the European Union, funds are available but access to these is not guaranteed as the experience with recovery after hurricane Irma demonstrates. These examples show that the issues around climate justice have been insufficiently resolved. There is a need for a long-term climate strategy within the Kingdom along with complementary funding. Until then climate litigation could assist in enforcing a duty of care by local governments and the Kingdom to protect inhabitants by using the human rights framework. This would also create a roadmap for other territories in similar circumstances.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)613-624
Number of pages12
JournalGeographical Journal
Issue number4
Early online date22 Dec 2022
Publication statusPublished - 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
I wish to acknowledge the research team at the ‘Islanders at the Helm’ project which is funded by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) Caribbean Research programme and is led by Dr. Francio Guadeloupe (chair), Prof. Dr. Corinne Hofman (co‐chair) and Dr. Antonio Carmona Báez (co‐applicant). The discussions within this team have been important to the development of my arguments. I would like to thank the reviewers and editors for their valuable comments which assisted in improving my work. In addition, I would like to thank the Netherlands Scientific Council for Government Policy for funding my initial explorative research on this theme. I would also like to show my deep appreciation for the communities of the CAS and BES‐islands who have helped illuminating the local consequences of the legal framework.

Publisher Copyright:
The information, practices and views in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG). © 2022 The Authors. The Geographical Journal published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers).


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