Climate expert: climate justice a key pillar of policies

It is important for climate justice to be incorporated into the approach to dealing with climate change and the vulnerabilities of marginalised groups must be prioritised.

As decision-makers across the Caribbean develop policies to protect livelihoods against the effects of climate change, one climate expert is calling on decision-makers to ensure climate justice is a key pillar of these policies. 

In a recent appearance on the Global Yaddie Podcast, Steve Maximay stressed the point that not all Caribbean countries are “in the same boat” when it comes to climate change even though they are all Small Island Developing States (SIDS). 

As a respected expert on climate change, Maximay is a plant pathologist and science advisor to the Association of Caribbean Media Workers

Using Guyana and Dominica as examples, Maximay said that while both countries are susceptible to increased flooding and sea-level rise as a result of climate change, their level of vulnerability is different.

For example, Dominica’s geographic position within the Atlantic Hurricane Belt makes it more vulnerable to tropical cyclones, and its size makes it more vulnerable to loss of livelihoods and food insecurity. 

Putting it in an even more localised context, indigenous communities and other historically marginalised groups – like low-socioeconomic status households – within the same country may have more climate vulnerabilities than other groups.

“We are all facing the same rough seas but some of us are experiencing it better because we may be in a 38-foot yacht, others may be in a very small boat, and then there may be some unfortunate ones just holding on by a barrel,” Maximay explained.

According to Maximay, although all Caribbean countries are facing the negative effects of climate change, the structure of the specific society determines which segments of that society will be more affected than others. 

With this understanding, it is therefore important for climate justice to be incorporated into national approaches to dealing with climate change and the vulnerabilities of marginalised groups to be prioritised.  

Photo credit: Reuters/Stephanie Lecocq

When creating climate policies, Maximay suggests that policymakers can include pathways in these policies for vulnerable communities to be adequately compensated for any losses and damages they may experience as a result of the effects of climate disasters. 

Given it is not possible to know the exact losses these communities will experience in the event of future climate disasters, it is important that policymakers conduct socio-economic impact assessments, and disaster risk and vulnerability studies, to create fair compensation schemes. 

The data gathered from these assessments can also guide decision-makers working with the Global North to measure how their emissions – and overall effect on the climate crisis – measure against the disaster risk and climate funding needed to reduce these risks. 

Noting that climate justice is a “mechanism for correction,” Maximay said that fair compensation will ensure marginalised groups are justly compensated for losses which occurred due to no fault of their own.

As the region continues to ‘find its feet’ in the response to climate change, Maximay pointed out that adjustments and transitions are nothing new in Caribbean history. 

“This region has been subject to transitions all its history. Transitions have been achieved with movements away from producing certain goods, ways of living and existing. We’ve been asked to change from plantation economies to developing our food production modalities. We’ve been asked to change how we move from depending on goods (like sugar) to services (tourism).” 

But with certain transitions – especially to renewable energy – Maximay said there must be careful moral, social and financial considerations. 

If people are to use green technologies, more environmentally sustainable products, and adopt more environmentally friendly practices, there must be careful consideration to assist people of lower socioeconomic status to access these resources.  

At times of natural disasters, policymakers must ensure that resources are equitably shared before a disaster and after to help those most in need.

Considerations must also be made to assist workers in oil and natural gas industries to find suitable, alternative employment as the transition to renewable energy continues. 

In a 2022 interview with Trinbagonian journalist Ryan Bachoo, Head of Trinidad and Tobago’s Multilateral Environmental Agreements Unit, Kishan Kumarsingh, said the country’s Government is mindful of the effects a transition to renewable energy will have on its energy workers.

Kumarsingh pointed to the 2021 publication of a draft of the country’s just transition policy which includes channels for retooling and re-schooling energy workers to build their capacity to work in the renewable energy field. 

The policy is currently before Trinidad and Tobago’s cabinet for consideration.

In Guyana, the country’s revised Low Carbon Development Strategy will seek to phase out an estimated 70 per cent of non-renewable energy by 2027 through an energy mix of natural gas and renewable energy sources.

To offset this goal, the country has benefited from several grants and partnerships with organisations like the European Union (EU) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to protect the country’s rainforests and build solar farms in rural communities. 

Within these grants and stipulations are guarantees that local communities – including indigenous communities – will play a greater role from start to finish in these projects to ensure there is capacity building in the process. 

With adequate funding necessary to drive climate action, Maximay said reform of global climate funding mechanisms is also necessary to make funds more accessible to the Global South countries.

But this reform must see countries receiving climate funds having more freedom in determining how they are used and prevent the dynamic where money provided by the Global North is “circulated” by way of grantees sourcing climate-related products and services from granters. 

He explained, “For example, you get $200 million and it’s just changing hands because we (in the Global South) are buying services and goods (from the Global North who gives us that funding).

“This includes technical services, so the same consultants that come down to be part of (climate) projects are from the same countries that cause the problem in the first place.”

As the Caribbean continues its efforts to protect lives and livelihoods from the effects of climate change, there must be continued focus on the communities that are most vulnerable to not only climate risks but also society’s inequities. 

In doing so, Maximay thinks the region will continue to make true progress towards achieving equitable climate adaptation, mitigation and resilience. 

Tune in for the full episode ⬇️⬇️⬇️

This story was produced through the collaborative efforts Climate Tracker and Young People for Action on Climate Change, both supported by Open Society Foundation.

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Tyrell Gittens

Tyrell Gittens

Tyrell is a conservationist, environmentalist, and geographer dedicated to exploring and protecting our big beautiful world through storytelling. A Trinbagonian with a deep love for nature, he enjoys hiking, listening to the waves crashing on the twin island’s scenic beaches and immersing himself in nature as he seek to become one with the world.

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