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ARUBA’S SUSTAINABILITY VISION

April 2016

The 20 mile island-nation of Aruba is on track to becoming the world’s first country to fully transition off fossil fuels by 2020.

Sustainability, one of the most overused words of the 21st century, has transformed from a mere buzzword into a model responsible for driving economic policy and shaping the agenda of governments around the world.

Nowhere is this truer than on the island-nation of Aruba in the southern Caribbean Sea. Over the last five years the 20-mile country has embarked on a mission toward sustainable prosperity, creating a balance between quality of life, for its 108,000 population, and sustained economic growth – it’s a movement the country has affectionately termed ‘One Happy Island.’

Efforts escalated in 2012 when Aruba launched its Smart Island Strategy with Sir Richard Branson’s Carbon War Room, founded to fight climate change, and other key entities such as Harvard and the New America Foundation. Due to the island’s natural solar and wind resources, Aruba hopes to become a model for the use of renewable energy through wind farms, solar parks, waste-to-energy, smart communities and a USD 1 billion island investment.

With the country already meeting many of its goals, experts find it difficult to offer the same cynicism given to other countries embarking on this type of sustainable initiative, and that’s because Aruba may well be on track to becoming the world’s first country to fully transition off fossil fuels by 2020.

GREEN ECONOMY

In the late 80s, the government made a concerted effort to take advantage of Aruba’s natural beauty and become a premier tourism product. And it paid off.

According to the government, today the economy is 88% dependent on tourism. Since the mid-1980s, Aruba’s gross domestic product has increased from about USD 400 million to nearly USD 3 billion.

“We increased our number of hotel rooms from 2,000 to 8,000 in a few short years and successfully became a high-appeal travel destination. Today, Aruba has more than 10,000 rooms on-island,” says Prime Minister Mike Eman.

However, the Prime Minister believes that his small island may have reached a point where a visionary approach – one that transcends a larger GDP – must be considered.

In 2011, the government of Aruba laid out its plans for revitalising the national economy. Eman indicated the will of his government to take the next step and examine how efforts and projects can be integrated and scaled up within a Smart Island Strategy.

Its Green Gateway report outlines that balancing out economic resilience with ecological responsibility is fundamental to achieving improved quality of life.

“Considering the need for economic transformation towards sustainable economic development, the vision of the Minster of Economic Affairs is to strategically position Aruba as the green gateway,” says Eman.

For the government a green gateway refers to an innovative and competitive economy of free trade and enterprise, fair commerce and corporate social responsibility.

According to experts economic development in Aruba is advancing at a greater pace than in most island states, driven mostly by a strong tourism and hospitality industry. However, in order to fuel this growth, Aruba must import ever-larger amounts of costly fuel and other resources every year – which it’s aiming to change.

“Our goal is an ambitious one: to increase the social, environmental and economic resilience of Aruba through an efficient use of natural resources and an implementation of projects that will create and sustain high-quality local jobs for current and future generations. Ultimately, we hope that Aruba will become the model for low-carbon, sustainable and prosperous economy that can be replicated in other island nations,” said Prime Minster Mike Eman in a report by the Carbon War Room titles Smart Growth Pathways: Building a Green Platform for Sustainable Aruba.

Committed to this goal, the Aruban government signed a contract with the local utility service company ELMAR NV last year to convert all of the island’s public road lighting to energy-efficient LED lights by 2017, which will reduce energy consumption and lower maintenance costs. This will translate into a 30% energy savings for the country.

Additionally, the LED replacement plan will build on the country’s strategic infrastructure and urban development plan, which will also aid in realising Aruba’s Green Corridor – a four-lane, energy efficient infrastructure project that will connect the entire island, from the airport to Oranjestad and to San Nicolas. It will include a linear park at Pos Chiquito and a new bridge over Spaans Lagoen, in addition to a new lane exclusively for cycling.

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