“It is imperative that we devise strategies to bridge the sustainability gaps between Island Nations.” Words from James Ellsmoor, founder and Director of Island Innovation, a network operating across island communities across the globe. Serving as a beacon of hope in the Caribbean, the organization’s major role is to convey people and stimulate information-sharing to implement innovative solutions to pressing environmental challenges.
Sustainable development SIDS
For years, Island Innovation has spearheaded sustainable development in the Small Island Developing States (SIDS). The organisation does not directly implement projects on the ground. Rather, they have a network of non-governmental organizations, the private sector, media, universities and academia and serve as a bridge across all these sectors whilst considering their respective roles.
“We try to break down barriers and form digital bridges. Various islands must have the means to learn from each other. So we are trying to create a globalized network which everyone can benefit from”, Ellsmoor explains about the organization’s mission.
He further stresses that when it comes to sustainable development, the government has a major role but cannot do it alone. “You need all hands on deck. Each group has a different role that needs to be fulfilled to not leave anyone behind.”
Regarding sustainable development, the CEO of Island Innovation acknowledges that while each context is unique, certain themes remain consistent. That’s why the organization takes the best practices from one nation and tries to implement them in another nation while taking into consideration the needs of the local community.
“Many islands lack the human resources to develop new solutions for every problem. Through sharing resources, expertise, and learning from each other, different islands can collaborate to address issues related to climate adaptation, energy, transportation, and other areas,” he explains.
Needless to say, Island Innovation truly lives up to its name. In 2023, the network celebrated the fifth anniversary of its virtual island summit, which served as its flagship annual event.
According to Ellsmoor, the virtual summit was an innovative idea at that time, considering this was the pre-covid stage and online meetings was no regular occurrence. Ellsmoor champions the possibilities that arise with virtual summits.
“Virtual summits eliminate geographical barriers, allowing participants from diverse backgrounds to be a part of decision-making processes and foster a global exchange of ideas.” Ellsmoor strongly believes that high-level policymakers are not the only seats that should be present at the table. Grassroot practitioners and people from all levels in between doing different strokes of work, must also be included.
During the last Conference of the Parties (COP), held in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Island Innovation made a significant impact with its presence. In the Climate Action Innovation Zone, they hosted the “Island of Hope” aimed at connecting SIDS and other climate-vulnerable regions with donors, investors, and solution providers to expedite climate adaptation, resilience, and ecosystem restoration efforts.
Ellsmoor also applauded the increased presence of Caribbean Civil Society at COP28.
“It is crucial that civil society is strongly represented during events like COP. While world leaders and governments may attend and make commitments, it is essential to have Civil Society present to hold them accountable for implementing these promises once they return home. That’s why the involvement of civil society in these discussions is important.”
Caribbean Climate Justice Leaders Academy
Island Innovation strongly advocates for the inclusion of youth in the climate crisis conversation, demonstrating their commitment through action. In a joint venture with the Open Society Foundation, they organized the Caribbean Climate Justice Youth Academy, making it possible for ten Caribbean youth leaders to attend COP28.
The program aimed to provide an opportunity to attend COP while also offering training in preparation for the event. It identified young people who are already doing important work on the ground in their home countries and served as a way to help them internationalize their work. Out of more than four hundred applications, forty were selected for the virtual academy training. Every CARICOM member countries and territories from the region, was represented.
The youngsters had access to capacity-building training and workshops, over some months. From that cohort, ten were selected to attend COP in person.
Luciano Doest, an environmental research assistant from Suriname, was one of the ten youth leaders attending COP on behalf of the Caribbean Climate Justice Leaders Academy.
For him, it was an unforgettable experience that will strengthen his work in Suriname.
“This program introduced me to the concept of climate justice, unaware that I was already implementing it in my community work. The program inspired me and helped me find purpose within myself. It was the first time I felt connected to the Caribbean. We have more in common than we realize in the Caribbean.”
Although COP was a completely new experience for him and was overwhelming at first, he could make connections, especially among young people from all over the world working hard to combat climate change.
“Civil society also had a strong presence at COP. Thanks to civil society, I gained hope. Civil society is trying to create a unified voice to positively influence negotiations. So from the entire COP experience, I learned, made connections, and regained hope for a better future,” Doest concludes.
This story was published as part of Climate Tracker’s COP28 Climate Justice Reporting Fellowship