Tue | Jul 23, 2024

James Ellsmoor | Climate justice in the Caribbean

How youth are stepping up to build a more equitable future

Published:Sunday | June 16, 2024 | 12:08 AM
A child rappels over a stretch of the Essequibo River, using the rope of a ship docked in Parika, Guyana.
A child rappels over a stretch of the Essequibo River, using the rope of a ship docked in Parika, Guyana.
James Ellsmoor
James Ellsmoor

In Apia like in St John’s and New York, preparation meetings bringing together island stakeholders from around the world discussed the future of their communities. These events, held ahead of the fourth International Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS4) in Antigua & Barbuda, all struck similar chords. “We seek not charity but equity and justice in addressing a crisis we did little to create,” noted Maldives President Mohamed Muizzu ahead of the summit.

In Antigua, much of the conversation was focused on developing new pathways towards sustainability: reforming international financial structures, leveraging nature-based solutions, identifying partnerships with other organisations, and finding opportunities to engage young people in these solutions.


Caribbean leaders, including Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley, are increasingly using their platforms to challenge world leaders and call for overhauling inefficient policies. At a grass-roots level, young people actively advocate for their communities while also identifying opportunities to develop workable sustainable solutions for the region. Caribbean youth are stepping up to build a more equitable future as recently highlighted by Ashley Lashley being named the sole representative from the Caribbean on the Youth Advisory Panel to the CEO of the Global Center on Adaptation (GCA).

At SIDS4, the 24-year-old Barbadian told attendees of the ‘amplifying action in the call for climate justice’ side event, “When we look at the Antigua and Barbuda agenda for SIDS that is being implemented, we are documenting all these outcomes that we wish to see, but where is the language of future generations? At the end of the day there is no climate justice without ensuring the protection of a safe environment for future generations to come. We need to ensure that there is a strengthening of our social safety net as a buffer for vulnerable people.”

Lashley’s comments were echoed by the rest of the panel and across the American University campus, where the conference was held. Climate justice and equity have gone from slogans heard on the sidelines of major international summits to being the underpinning points of policy and development at a global scale - and Caribbean youth are part of the leading edge.


Island Innovation is no stranger to the excellence of Caribbean youth, having witnessed first-hand how keen they are to develop workable solutions for their communities. In 2023, our organisation launched the Caribbean Climate Justice Leaders Academy (CCJLA), which saw over 500 applicants vie to join a 10-week course that built their knowledge on environmental sustainability, climate resilience, international policies, and how they impact the Caribbean. The first cohort was composed of 35 participants hailing from every CARICOM nation.

Speakers included a range of subject matter experts, including Stop Ecocide Ambassador Nesha Abiraj, author Jeremy Williams, as well as Bajan tech entrepreneur and activist Donnya Piggott. Following the course, 10 of the participants were part of the Island Innovation delegation to attend the United Nations’ yearly climate summit, COP28, which was hosted in Dubai.

“It was life-changing. I got connected with people from across the Caribbean, and I stopped feeling alone. I felt that my experiences, struggles, desires, and work was shared from people across the Caribbean, and I felt like I belonged somewhere,” explains 2023 CCJLA member from Curaçao, Muskaan Khemani, “At COP28, I was able to solidify working relationships with ministerial representatives, and this led to a pilot project where I will be mapping out land surface temperature at the neighbourhood level across the island.”

As the academy enters into its second year, it is doing so with the support of key regional entities. The recently announced 2024 CCJLA cohort features 50 Caribbean youth - an increased class size to respond to the quality of applications and testament to the growing interest in building an equitable future for the region and the world at large. SIDS4 was a showcase of expertise, resilience, and innovation in action. It also highlighted how involved young people have been at all levels of government, civil society, and academia to develop workable long-term sustainable solutions.

James Ellsmoor is an award-winning serial entrepreneur and writer. He is co-founder and director of Solar Head of State, and CEO at Island Innovation. Recognised on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list for his work on sustainable energy. James is passionate about climate change advocacy and environmental policy. Send feedback to james@islandinnovation.co and columns@gleanerjm.com.