caribbean states lead the way in sustainability

by christina ivey, 2nd year politics and international relations at LSE

Courtesy of Christina Ivey

Courtesy of Christina Ivey


Caribbean states are leading the way in sustainability, but their efforts will not be enough if the rest of the world fails to follow suit.

The Caribbean can be generally understood as the territories in and around the Caribbean Sea. This region lies on the Caribbean tectonic plate and has several active volcanos. It is also subject to seasonal storms, especially during the Atlantic hurricane season. In a 2013 study by the International Monetary Fund, countries within the Caribbean have a 10% annual risk of being struck by a hurricane, although that probability can rise to as high as 20% in the Bahamas and 24% in Jamaica.

Climate change poses an intrinsic threat to the existence of life in the Caribbean. It promises and has already begun to deliver more frequent and more intense storms.  The non-volcanic territories of the region have high water tables which are vulnerable to saltwater infiltration as sea levels rise. There is also the general threat of loss of biodiversity as the region’s coral reefs become inundated or bleached, the forests succumb to desertification and more frequent storm activity erodes topsoil.

The World Travel and Tourism Council has named the Caribbean as the most tourist-intensive region of the world. With some countries generating over a third of their GDP from tourism alone, the region is particularly concerned with anything that might disrupt this activity.

The states of the Caribbean have recognised the threat of climate change, never entertaining the notion of denial, and have begun a transformation to sustainability. The leader amongst these states is Cuba, recognise in 2006 the only country in the world to meet the World Wildlife Foundation’s criteria for sustainable development. They have made coordinated efforts to reforest the island, which in 1959 was only 11% forested. As of 2016, that figure now stands at 30.6%. The hardships of the Special Period after the collapse of the Soviet Union led them towards organic methods of sustaining their food sovereignty. The island was unable to import industrial agricultural chemicals such as synthetic fertilisers and insecticides, which forced them to shift to more sustainable farming methods. Cuba is now the pioneer in Organipónicos, a radical system of urban agriculture using organic methods. Ownership, access and management of these urban gardens are all community based, with supportive state subsidies. Cuba’s main challenge to furthering their sustainable transformation continues to be the economic blockade imposed on them by the United States.

Elsewhere in the Caribbean, governments are enacting policy aimed at protecting the environment. One major success is the enactment of bans on single-use plastics. So far, Antigua and Barbuda, Belize, The Bahamas, Bermuda, Dominica, and Jamaica have all enacted bans on single-use plastics, with other countries having the issue tabled for debate. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has already commended the success of such efforts in the wider region, which have helped to reduce plastic consumption by 35% in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (CCCCC), established in 2002, has been the major actor in coordinating the region’s response to the threat of climate change. The Centre produced an evidence-based policy implementation plan for 2011-2021, supported by regional scientists. In 2013, the Centre’s parent organisation CARICOM approved the Caricom Sustainable Energy Roadmap and Strategy (C-SERMS). C-SERMS aims are for 28% of the total electricity generation mix in the region to come from renewable sources by 2022, 47% by 2027. It has also been developing a similar strategy for both public and private transportation.

Caribbean states are united by their shared commitment towards sustainable development and self-reliance, however, their efforts are hindered by the patterns of over-consumption in the Global North, and