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Making Aruba future-proof through Sustainable Circular Economy

“By 2050 our island’s economy will be an innovative, competitive, and diversified knowledge-based economy blessed with real-case proven and commercially viable small scale and decentralized sustainable circular economy solutions that can be exported as Aruban’ knowledge, products and services to other islands and small communities across the globe as a value added macro-economic activity. By then we will have figured out the way to offset our dependence on imported energy, food, materials, and other natural resources to become more resilient and sustain and improve our island communities’ lifestyle and satisfy the needs of our present and future generations.”

This statement is extracted from Aruba’s 2050 Circular Economy Vision Statement, a document presented in June of 2019 by the Ministry of Education, Science and Sustainable Development and endorsed by the Government of Aruba’s Ministers Council.

Picture: Courtesy of Ministers Council of the Cabinet Wever-Croes

These days, while we are starting to experience the first wave of health and socio-economic impacts of the COVID-19 (also known as the Corona Virus or C-virus) in the wider Americas, islands in the region are among the most vulnerable economies having to take drastic measures to protect the island citizen’s health while knowingly triggering a significant economic stagnation.

As a concerned Aruban citizen, I will focus in this position paper on how to make Aruba future-proof through the adoption and application of the Sustainable Circular Economy principles.

Since March 21, the borders of Aruba, Dutch Caribbean, are completely closed not allowing arrivals. Several hotels have shut doors and tourism related activities are down to almost zero. Hundreds of people have and are losing their jobs, and many others that live from salary to salary are concerned whether they will receive their monthly pay to cover their needs and responsibilities as businesses are forced to close doors due to the health crisis.

This C-virus not only has a significant impact on the health, but also the socio-economic wellbeing of the island community, as tourism is the principal economic pillar of the island. This crisis touches the root of the island’s economic model. An un-sustainable “import-use-waste” economic model which is mainly based on the premise of a continuously and limitless expansion of the tourism sector which continuously requires more built infrastructure, reclamation of land and natural resources, and an ever-larger volume and rate of tourist visits demanding high-class services, thus import of a wide variety and proportionally large volume of goods and products with a high societal cost and impacting the carrying capacity of the island.

As this global pandemic is an unprecedented phenomenon impacting all nations around the globe, small, isolated, and highly dependent economies, such as Aruba’s economy, have entered into a new reality, where they will have to re-assess, re-invent and re-configure their macro-economic model in order to become future proof. This C-Virus pandemic is just the first of several more global food, material, energy, health, and water crises on the way, whether triggered by climate change, excessive extraction of natural resources disbalancing the global ecosystem, natural disasters, or the continuous contamination of the global water, soil, and air.

A tendency to be expected in this new global reality is that most nations will use this global pandemic crises as a means to learn and understand their economies’ interdependence and vulnerability to such external shocks and will aim to prioritize addressing key weaknesses and needs to guarantee their ability to protect and satisfy the needs of their citizens.

Why a Sustainable Circular Economy?

In times of crises people suddenly become more receptive for seemingly utopic ideas, as they experience first-hand how vulnerable our human society and modern economy is, how interdependent we are in a global linear economy, and that globalization does not offer the solution to the direct need for basic provision of food, water, and energy when its most needed.

The Sustainable Circular Economy (SCE) represents an alternative paradigm to the present “take-make-waste” linear global economic model, based on the idea of us as human beings aiming to observe, learn and apply the principles of nature to enable us as a species to thrive on planet earth without harming it and ourselves.

Nature is composed of multiple complex ecosystems wherein simultaneous cyclical processes take place where materials and chemicals are continuously used, transformed and exchanged safely without leading to wastage or contamination. Everything used in nature is reused over and over to grow mass and complexity without causing negative impacts while powered by the sun.

And based on this idea, the Sustainable Circular Economy serves as a new direction for us as human beings to reconfigure our operating system (thus our economy and society), and reassess the materials and chemicals we use, the processes we apply to extract and transform them, and the things we make and use, to sustain ourselves, satisfy our needs, and thrive on earth with the intention not to contaminate our surroundings and harm ourselves in the process.

As this C-virus pandemic escalates further at the global level, Aruba will have to, next to dealing with the crises at hand, adopt and apply SCE principles in its decision making for the medium to long term to prepare the island for other crises on the way.

In the current scenario, time will become an additional pressure point to Aruba’s ability to withstand this storm. Our ability to survive this crisis not only depends on the responsible measures taken up to now, such as closing down the borders, restricting interactions between people, and containing as much as possible the spread of the virus. We also need a drastic shift in our mind-set and decision-making process, to make sure that the limited resources we have at our disposal are allocated to the proper solutions and pathway forward.

We need to act now

This is the moment to act. Aruba, as many other highly dependent island economies, has to focus on addressing key essential needs for dealing with a continuation of this crises for period of at least 8 to 12 months ahead and beyond. In this extended period of crises, it comes down to having the capacity to address basic human needs, such as providing safety, and access to fresh water, healthy food, and energy services, beyond the proper health care.

Next I want to just highlight some general short- and long-term pointers or recommendations that are compatible with this 2050 Circular Economy Vision but warrant further detailed assessments to determine their technical and socio-economic viability.


Our most essential need is access to potable water. Our access to potable water is thankfully, in the worst-case scenario of complete disruption of the supply of fuels (heavy fuel oil, gasoline, natural gas, diesel, etc.), guaranteed with the limited amount of solar and wind power capacity installed on the island. Which is sufficient to run the existing Sea Water Reverse Osmosis units to produce potable water from the surrounding ocean.

But for the mid- to long term future, we need to invest in a Deep-Sea Water Industry (DSWI) which is a sustainable macro-economic solution that is very compatible with the vision of a Sustainable Circular Island Economy and is defined as “an island-compatible economic sector where innovative and sustainable solutions and productive activities are developed, driven by the use of the surrounding deep-sea water” (Sewenig, ASDF/Utrecht University, 2016).

This industry is based on the objective of closing the loop between an island economy and surrounding ocean water, through the pumping of cold deep-sea water (DSW) of 4-6°C at 800-1000 m depth to the shore, and circulate this in either closed-loop or cascading systems as means to address among other, cooling, energy, water, and food needs in locations where the conditions are optimal, prior to returning the water back to the ocean.

Having unlimited access to an eco-friendly and renewable source within your maritime boarders, makes DSWI an Aruban-compatible and self-sustaining economic sector where innovation and sustainability are at the epicenter of all activities within this sector.

Food and Health

Our ability to produce food, is directly linked to access to water and availability of land and soil quality. As a dry desert-like island, water is critical for the cultivation of fruits and vegetables, thus we need to be creative on how we can rationally use the limited water and land available to generate highest possible yields of organic fruits and vegetables. A recommendation is to incentivize the remaining small landowners and farmers to start planting fruits, vegetables now, and make arrangements to provide them with affordable water, seeds and tools to plant.

On the mid- to long term future, we need to strategically invest in the set-up of organic farming activities both across the island as well in the territorial waters, and next to cultivating fresh fruits and vegetables, allowing for the production of seafood, algae, and other aqua-culture related activities, and the cultivation of cannabis, hemp, bamboo, and other types of vegetation for multiple productive purposes, such as ingredients for medical purposes, cosmetics, food supplements, building material, fibers for clothing and other product applications, and biofuels. Through the primary sector, significant materials, ingredients, and food sources can be produced within the island’s boarders, where matched with technology and innovation can enable the island to offset the need to import a significant portion of food, medicine, building materials, and other products to satisfy the needs on the island, without hampering it, as they all are compatible or fit within the biological short to long-term cycles under a sustainable circular economy.

Energy and Mobility

Energy in the form of electricity enables pumps to circulate water in the distribution network, power lighting, internet and communications services, other essential electrical appliances, medical equipment, and many other critical features to address the pandemic crises, keeping the general public informed, and enable decision makers to continuously assess the situation. Thus, having the solar and wind capacity installed (as these energy sources are intermittent), these in the worst-case scenario will partially provide the capacity to offer power during a daily cycle.

To power the island’s economy with a reliable, low-cost, and clean source of energy, we need to strategically invest in developing an Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) system, which is the only foreseeable technological option for Aruba to deploy a baseload energy supply option, which could offset the need for fossil fuel powered energy systems, and using a renewable energy source available within the nation’s boarders, which is deep sea water in the surrounding ocean within the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of Aruba. Once the baseload power is solved, this can enable the further long-term expansion of other intermittent renewable energy technologies and use of electrified vehicles and other productive technologies that should go hand-in-hand with rational and efficient use of these energy sources.

Safety and social stability

The safety or social stability can only be achieved if all institutions, businesses and citizens are conscious of the health crisis and its economic consequences, where all have to be considerate and offer alternatives to enable families to have the means to address their primary needs without losing their properties, purchasing capacity, and freedom.

For the long-term social stability, Aruba must offer descent job opportunities and professional growth perspective and creating an attractive knowledge-based economy leaning on its most valuable asset, which is the Aruban people. And make the island’s creative and knowledge industries attract domestic and foreign investments for furthering innovation. This is achieved by strategically investing in creating the enabling conditions for research, development, and deployment of innovative ideas, technologies and solutions that are in line with the sustainable circular economy principles. This entails the development of bio-based solutions, digital and services-oriented businesses, and ultimately build a home-grown industry that is able to compete on the international market and convert Aruba from a highly dependent net-importing country to a net-exporting country of knowledge and innovative products and services.

First actions for a future-proof economy

As recommended in the 2017 Social Economic Council (Social Economische Raad – SER) report entitled “De mogelijkheid tot het toepassen van het concept Circulaire Economie op Aruba” (The potential to apply the Circular Economy concept on Aruba, SER, 2017), they conclude and recommend the Government of Aruba to take further steps toward achieving sustainable development by introducing the Circular Economy concept on Aruba.

The main reasons for doing so, is because they understood the multiple benefits the circular economy can bring about for the island, which leads to (1) improvement of the public health, (2) economic opportunities, (3) exponential innovation, and (4) an improvement of the ecological footprint of the island’s economy.

Planning for a sustainable and future-proof circular island economy requires decisive action and proper stakeholders’ engagement and inclusion, especially during or after a crisis.

Based on my accumulated experience and my work as Circular Economy Ambassador for Aruba, I have learned that in the case of Aruba there is a need to build on the potential synergy between at the minimum (1) the Ministry of Education, Science and Sustainable Development; (2) the Ministry of Economy, Finance and Culture; (3) the Ministry of General Affairs, Energy, and Innovation; and (4) the Ministry of Infrastructure and Environment, to create a proper public sector governance on the topic of Circular Economy.

And for the remainder of 2020 focus on establishing the first Inter-Ministerial Circular Economy Leadership Council composed of the Ministers and/or appointed high-level representatives of each ministry. And assign the Inter-Ministerial Circular Economy Leadership Council to represent Aruba, with guidance from Circular Economy experts, on matters relating to Circular Economy with the partner countries in the Dutch Kingdom, European Union, and beyond.

Consider also creating a National Circular Economy Technical Advisory Committee composed of both national and international Circular Economy Experts representing the public-, private-, academic- and civil society to share knowledge through objective analyses, awareness and capacity building, provide technical updates and insights, and objective information for proper synergy and decision making at the national level to operate with a common vision and approach regarding Circular Economy.

Host the 2020 edition of the Circular Economy Forum of the Americas (CEFA2020) planned for November 23-26, 2020 to bring together international experts and strategic alliances in Aruba to learn about Aruba’s goals and targets, showcase progress, exchange, and establish strategic partnerships for helping make Aruba’s 2050 Circular Economy Vision possible.

After investing in educating key decision makers on the value and relevance of the Sustainable Circular Economy, I highly recommend us to use the Aruba 2050 Circular Economy Vision as a general starting point and perform an in-depth multi-stakeholder and technical assessment together with social partners of the type and scope of interventions needed, their timing and duration, and resources necessary to accomplish them, thus building a detailed roadmap and action plan that is carried by all.

And while we detail out the interventions, continue to expand the international presence of Aruba, through strategic partnerships with for instance the Circular Economy Platform of the Americas, the Holland Circular Hotspot, and other similar platforms to enable Aruba to implement its 2050 Circular Economy Vision. International cooperation will be a fundamental need to materialize the multiple interventions outlined in Aruba’s 2050 CEV.

In closing, to make Aruba future-proof, we need to focus on the critical basic needs, such as providing clean potable water, reliable and renewable energy, healthy and organic food, and hope and perspective, to make the island economy more resilient to external shocks. And the Sustainable Circular Economy serves as a suitable framework for strategic decision-making for this end.

As the Circular Economy Ambassador for Aruba, while still in this role, I will continue to reach out to key actors and decision makers to offer my advice on how we can strengthen our capacity as an island to become future proof through adoption of the SCE principles, while thriving in a harmonious way with our natural surroundings and achieve sustainable development.

[i] Kevin de Cuba is an Environmental Engineer and has a MSc. Degree in Sustainable Development with specialization in Energy and Materials. He is presently the Director of the Americas Sustainable Development Foundation (ASDF), Co-founder and Chair of the Circular Economy Platform of the Americas, and serves since September 2019 as a Circular Economy Ambassador for Aruba.

© Copyright 2020 Americas Sustainable Development Foundation (ASDF). All Rights Reserved.

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