“Just Transition” Climate Change considerations within CARICOM


Dominica Central Forest seriously damaged by hurricane Maria in 2017. Photo taken 5 months after hurricane. Source: Shutterstock Photographer: Derek D. Galon

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 “just” aspect of the transition is steeped in moral underpinnings of self-determination with respect to the communities or countries under consideration. 

In the current context, “just transition” has none of the compulsory overtones associated with “just do it.” The idea is not to compel anyone to “just transition” and quit complaining.     

There is an appreciation of the fact that the changes advocated in the quest for lower carbon emissions are for the benefit of humankind. The new environmentally friendly norms should also be people-focused since they are the ultimate beneficiaries.  A just transition is not interchangeable with an externally driven imposition, no matter how well-intentioned. 

All CARICOM countries boast economies that are powered by fossil fuels and in a couple instances by extractive industries as well.  The Caribbean is one of the most tourism dependent regions globally – an industry whose carbon footprint includes airline/maritime travel, ground transportation, food miles, air conditioning, potable water use, golf course irrigation, powered equipment/appliances and lighting. 

Figure 1 provides a geospatial overlay of the countries that are tourism dependent and wherein any transition to less fossil fuel dependence will necessitate the just transition accoutrements afforded other Paris Agreement signatories.  

Figure 1 Map of Tourism Dependence in the Caribbean


The extractive industries overlay is less encompassing, but the transition requirements remain the same. Table 1 shows coded policy responses listed by the respective countries to effectively transition out of fossil fuel dependence.

Country submitting the Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC)Number of times word mentioned – AgricultureNumber of times word mentioned – FoodCoded  targeted NDC sectors
Antigua and Barbuda12TE
The Bahamas23TE
Commonwealth of Dominica1113TEW
Grenada, Carriacou and Petit Martinique50TEW
St. Kitts and Nevis20TE
St. Lucia22TE
St. Vincent and The Grenadines122TE
Trinidad and Tobago11TEI
Table 1: Coded targeted NDC sectors and the relative significance of Agriculture/Food  (T=Transportation,  E= Electricity/Power generation, W=Waste disposal, F= Forestry, I = Industry

The international discourse on “just transitions” has been focused on the energy sector and in that respect, CARICOM is still fossil fuel dependent. The transition from fossil fuels to renewables is on the agenda of every state. 

The transitions being considered internationally tend to be mitigation-based and will involve reducing the carbon footprint of all the sectors of economic importance. The situation in SIDS (like those in the Caribbean) is more dire; agricultural production will continue to be negatively impacted by Climate Change leading to forced adaptation-driven transitions.  

These transitions also need to be addressed in a “just” manner because the nutrition security of these nations will continue to be significantly compromised.

The transitions in the region will be an amalgam of planned mitigation, as enunciated in the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) documentation, and the forced adaptation-driven, reactive policies and practices. 

It is clear that any and all of the transitions will require genuine stakeholder involvement in the rationale for, execution of, and evaluation of all practices and protocols developed.   Therein lies the need for the type of educational, public awareness and training inputs that can be provided by institutions such as the Cipriani College of Labour and Cooperative Studies in Trinidad.  

Steeped in the issues of justice, equality, workers’ rights and tripartite deliberations, the College can be an economy-wide beacon for the illumination of these just transitions within CARICOM.

This project supported by Open Society Foundations 

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