When you live in a small island country in the Caribbean with a population less than the size of a village in some countries, you sometimes wonder what impact you can have in the world. However, the size of our countries should not deter us from speaking out or undertaking endeavours that benefit us and our country. Though we may differ geographically, several of our environmental challenges are similar.
In Saint Lucia the issues related to climate change are always at the forefront priorities, especially when the Atlantic hurricane season draws closer. Additionally, we have adopted comprehensive measures to help us deal with pollution. One may think that climate change and pollution are not directly linked, however we often see how bad environmental practices (like pollution, plastic pollution in particular) can exacerbate climate change impacts during heavy rainfall.
Over the years, my efforts to bring to the fore the above-mentioned issues have led to my participation in many initiatives. In 2013 the Caribbean Youth Environment Network in Saint Lucia (CYEN), for which I serve as national coordinator, held a summer camp for marginalised children that allowed them to build stronger connections with the environment. Since then, every year we participate in the International Coastal Cleanup (ICC). In the lead up to COP21 we undertook the ‘1.5 to Stay Alive’ Climate Justice Campaign, building awareness by targeting climate change impacts and international climate negotiations. Two years ago, I also started a microbusiness called 7Ks which focuses on upcycling and promoting sustainable lifestyles. As part of a team of young women, we started a social enterprise named Jua Kali Ltd, undertaking the country’s first-ever resource recovery pilot project that was extended to schools in 2017.
Snaliah Mahal is a native of St Lucia, with an MSc in Climate Change and International Development from the University of East Anglia (United Kingdom) and a B.A. in International Relations from the Universidad del Valle de Mexico (Mexico City). Snaliah interned at the United Nations Information Centre (Mexico) where she deepened her knowledge of the UN system and gained an appreciation for climate change and environmental issues. Her past work also involved teaching French, Spanish, Social Studies and Visual Arts at the secondary school level.
The Caribbean Small Island Developing States (SIDS) are one group of countries acutely vulnerable to climate change issues. SIDS are often characterized by limited resources. The islands typically lack sufficient land, food, water and fuel and are predisposed to tropical weather systems. In addition, many of the islands are threatened by tectonic movement and volcanic activity. As such, it is important for youth to know the potential impacts of climate change and what they can do to combat it.
Work is already underway to raise awareness of climate change through creative means of information communication. The Caribbean Youth Environment Network (CYEN) has initiated several activities to raise awareness about climate change. The popular campaign “1.5 to Stay Alive” involved art in the form of poems, spoken word, song and visual art to portray climate change impacts. While the Paris Agreement was being signed, 50 paper lanterns were lit in Barbados to promote climate change. This was done with the support of private companies and their associated environmental programmes. Youth led the World Wide Views Citizen Consultations on climate and energy in 5 Caribbean countries (Barbados, The Bahamas, Grenada, Guyana and Haiti), resulting in around 500 citizens from those countries receiving education on the impact of climate change on the environment.
Jamilla Sealy, is a 29-year environmental educator and advocate from Barbados. She is the Regional Chairperson of the Caribbean Youth Environment Network and the Queen’s Young Leader Awardee (2017). Jamilla was also recognized as a Commonwealth Young Achiever (2015), she enjoys raising awareness about environmental issues, particularly climate change.
Agriculture represents a critical share of the economies of Small Island Developing States (SIDS), specifically island nations like Jamaica where the sector contributes 7.9 per cent of national GDP (World Bank, 2018). With most agricultural chemicals and inputs sold in plastic containers, their use has become a major topic of discussion as greater awareness of the environmental impact of plastics takes hold.
In Jamaica, farmers purchase pesticides, fertilisers and farm inputs in plastic packaging which are often reused to mix and store other chemicals. These containers serve as storage for seedlings as well as containers for drip irrigation. Though this is one effective method to reduce plastic pollution, the practice is not mainstream across the country. Ironically, many farmers pollute the environment by simply disposing off these plastics. This contributes to an increasing problem of pollution. In other areas of the world, Texas (United States) for example, the disposal of plastic agricultural items such as drip irrigation tubing is an environmental problem identified even among growers (GreenSource DFW, 2018).
Historically, discarded agricultural waste was taken to landfills or burned/buried. This often occurred on the farm property. However, recently, with governments’ efforts to enforce SDG 13 on climate action and the aim to reduce the contribution of greenhouses gases, more attention is being paid towards plastic burning. This and other associated efforts have spurred interest in farmers to explore other climate smart options.
Additionally, an increasing number of SIDS countries have started to implement methods to convert used agricultural plastic into recyclable products such as garbage bags, sidewalk pavers and plastic lumber. In a bid to encourage environmental-friendly and cost-effective practices, manufacturers have adopted a similar approach to environment protection. With only about 10 per cent of farm plastics currently recycled worldwide, it is important to continue to reduce, reuse and recycle plastics to combat climate change and improve our environment.
Jhannel Tomlinson is a member of CYEN Jamaica, the country representative for YPARD Jamaica and a Thought for Food 2018 Ambassador. Jhannel is interested in different themes crosscutting food security, youth engagement and climate action. In addition to volunteering, she is also a PhD candidate and aims to write her dissertation on Community-based Adaptation to Climate Change in rural Jamaica.