Climate Justice

“Just Transition” Climate Change considerations within CARICOM

The concept of a just transition originated with the United States labour movement of the Nineteen-Seventies and broadened as labour organisations forged alliances with environmental justice groups starting in the 1990s. 

Initially, the concept emerged in response to increased regulation of industries deemed heavy polluters. The literal meaning of the words are central to a full appreciation of the concept.  

A “transition” refers to the process/period of changing from one state/condition to another. It is the definition of “just” that requires clarification. 

“Just”, in this context, is the adjective referring to “based on or behaving according to what is morally right and fair (Righteous)” or “being what is merited (Deserved)” or “Legally correct (Lawful).”  The word “just” is not intended to be used as the adverb meaning “only” or “simply.”

The Caribbean Community is no stranger to transitions, especially those that have been decidedly unjust. These SIDS that include the mainland territories of Belize, Guyana and Suriname have had to make political transitions from colonialism to independence, and economic transitions from plantations to private farms and Industrialisation by Invitation. The more recent transition is environmentally driven around issues of climate change.  The concept of a just transition with respect to climate change implies that all those citizens disadvantaged by adaptation and mitigation actions will be buffered through socio-economic programmes that protect livelihoods.   

Just transition has been described as fostering healthy renewable economies and communities whilst moving away from fossil fuel dependence and extractive industries.

The Unjust Realities of Climate Change

Though the 2021 eruption of La Soufrière was not the product of climate change, it helped bring attention, both on land and at sea, to the impacts of the growing global crisis. 

Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves has been among Caribbean leaders calling on the developed world to play its part in assisting Small Island Developing States (SIDS) deal with harsh realities brought on because of their actions. Speaking at the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) 9th meeting of Council of Ministers on Environmental Sustainability recently, the Prime Minister said that sourcing funding is also a challenge, at high cost to the people of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. 

Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves: “You tell me if this world is fair”

“I’m talking to the rich countries of the world, and when I have to borrow to do that, because of the problems you created for me, you then tell me that my debt to GDP is too high, and that I must go on the IMF programme to squeeze poor people further,” the Prime Minister said. “You tell me,” he asked, “if this world is fair? So, when you’re talking about environment, please don’t forget the history and don’t forget these contemporary realities.”

Fishing boats in sargassum seaweed at Owia Wharf, while other boats are pulled ashore as bad weather approaches (Photo: Larisa Pugsley)

There are however those with an eye on existing domestic resources who believe there need to be better streamlined allocations across communities. This has brought attention to climate justice and equity not only as a function of global dynamics, but how scarce resources are distributed domestically to address emerging concerns.

Barbados: The Cost of Being a Climate Champion

Jutting out of the ocean as if a battle-weathered warrior is the island nation of Barbados, one of the many Small Island Developing States holding the frontline against the effects of climate change.    

Despite Barbados’ position on the battlefield, they did not start this war and did not set the rules of engagement. Instead, Barbados has to wage a campaign at international climate conventions to open up funding sources and adjust universal goals to suit its own reality. Nowhere is this more evident than in two paradigm-shifting projects: the new fishing regulations, which focus on measures to protect marine life, and the island-wide conversion to electrified vehicles by 2030. Though meeting climate objectives are high on the minds of Barbadians, experts are urging leaders to ensure that climate policies do not neglect the country’s unique circumstances.  

 “There are clear ways you could see that things aren’t tailored for our situation,” said Dr Shelly-Ann Cox, Ocean Professional Fisheries Management Specialist and CEO of Blue Shell Productions. ”And there are clear ways that you can see it could help, but then [we get] overwhelmed, there are no resources to build it out.