Dear interested parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity,
On behalf of the Foundation for a Clean Environment on Curaçao (hereafter, SMOC), I’d like to inform you with respect to the “Convention on Biological Diversity: Fifth National Report of the Kingdom of the Netherlands”, which was published this year by the Dutch government. This report aims ‘to assess the status of implementation of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)’ in the Dutch Kingdom. I will argue that this report is far from complete as far as Curaçao is considered.
What is Curaçao? It is a beautiful island in the Dutch Caribbean and, as a country with approximately 150.000 inhabitants and a status aparte, it is part of the Dutch Kingdom. Amongst others, Curaçao is well-known for its coral reefs and the sea life pursuant thereto: biodiversity is huge. Unfortunately, there is also a dark side to it. For years, Curaçao has been one of the main contributors to the Global Climate Change. It ranks in the top 10 of CO2 emissions per capita, according to the US Department of Energy.1 How is this possible? The answer is that Curaçao has an one hundred years old oil-refinery: the “Isla refinery”, till 1985 owned and exploited by the Royal Dutch Shell Company, now owned by Curaçao and leased by the Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA. A very mild environmental nuisance license was granted to PDVSA in 1997, which nevertheless has never been enforced by the local authorities. The pollution emitted by the Isla refinery is a crime in its own right and a violation of human rights. Authorities lack interest whatsoever, the Curaçao government as well as the Dutch governments prefer to look away. So from a scientific point of view, the Isla should be the subject of extensive discussions in the “Convention on Biological Diversity: Fifth National Report of the Kingdom of the Netherlands”, but it is not whilst there is more.
Life on Curaçao is great with the prevailing trade winds. But not leeward of the Isla refinery as the Isla’s emissions are not restricted to CO2. In fact, this refinery emits thousands of tons of sulfur dioxide, particulate matter, volatile organic compounds and compounds containing heavy metals.2 Due to the trade wind, these substances are distributed day after day over the same (residential) areas. Moreover, based on a research commissioned by the Curaçao government it is found that these emissions have been affecting public health with thousands of people involved and (at least) 18 premature deaths per year.3 Therefore, in 2010, the Curaçao judge classified the actions of Isla as illegal -with reference to human rights conventions.
Unfortunately, for decennia, the Curaçao government has been ignoring the Isla as a social problem, as it has been lacking willingness and capacity to enforce minimal maintenance by PDVSA as operator of the refinery. Therefore, in 2009, Mark Rutte at the time ordinary member of the Dutch Parliament urged the Government led by Prime Minister Balkenende, to intervene on Curaçao on the basis of the provisions set out in the Dutch Kingdom Charter (Art. 43). Why? Since years, human rights have been violated and good governance in this respect proved absent. Yet, now being the Prime Minister himself, Mr Rutte has not shown any intention at all to intervene and thus the Isla as a socio-environmental problem continues, making life in the threatened areas inhuman and unbearable. Areas where the poorest people of Curaçao are forced to live.4
In addition to air emissions, the marine and soil environment have also been affected by the actions of Isla, as is witnessed by a huge asphalt lake inherited by Shell and frequent oil spills to the marine environment.5
All considered it is fair to say that the “Convention on Biological Diversity: Fifth National Report of the Kingdom of the Netherlands” does not properly reflect the Curaçao case. In SMOC’s opinion the parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity have been incorrectly informed by Dutch government. With the information set out in this e-mail, parties should be in a better position ‘to assess the status [and way] of implementation of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)’ in the Dutch Kingdom.
Please support SMOC in its struggle of more than 10 years to stop this violation of human rights and start by making sure a report is drawn up that is a correct reflection of the real situation on Curaçao. A situation that doesn’t belong in this part of the Royal Dutch Kingdom, nor in any part of this world.
If you would like to have more information on this topic, please let me know or visit www.stichtingsmoc.org.
Arjan Linthorst (Board member and chemical advisor of SMOC)
- Report of TNO, published in 2007. (http://www.stichtingsmoc.nl/2011/01/onderzoek-telt-tno-2007/)
- Report of Eco-RYS, published in 2005. (http://www.stichtingsmoc.nl/2011/01/onderzoek-telt-dubbel-en-dwars-ecorys-nei-2005/)
- http://www.stichtingsmoc.nl/2014/05/the-so2-story-continues-in-the-dutch-kingdom/ and (in Dutch)http://www.stichtingsmoc.nl/2013/05/ter-herinnering-uit-2008-vvd-en-pvda-vinden-dat-mensenrechten-worden-geschonden/
- In 2013, “Poisoned Paradise” was broadcasted on Dutch television (http://zembla.incontxt.nl/seizoenen/2013/afleveringen/22-03-2013). For further reading, see for example; Elgershuizen and De Kruijf, Marine Pollution Bulletin, Vol. 7 (2), pp. 22-25, 1976; Nagelkerken and Debrot, Marine Pollution Bulletin, Vol. 30 (9), pp. 592-598, 1995.