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Reparations is climate justice, too

In the pursuit of justice, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) finds itself at a crucial juncture where its long call for reparatory justice must intertwine with the fierce urgency of climate justice.

Recent discussions around reparations for the transatlantic slave trade have underscored the need for a unified strategy, prompting the Caribbean region to embrace a shared negotiating approach. The CARICOM Secretariat has acknowledged, albeit in an internal document as reported by the Jamaica Gleaner, the absence of a common regional strategy on reparations. We believe this challenge can be transformed into an opportunity by weaving the pursuit of racial justice into the narrative of the Bridgetown Initiative.

The Bridgetown Initiative, the Mottley administration’s major multilateral foreign policy strategy, is rooted in the pursuit of climate justice. It seeks to secure greater support and resources from affluent nations to counteract the devastating impacts of climate change on developing nations, including the Caribbean.

By intertwining the principles of racial justice with the fight against climate change, CARICOM can forge a cohesive strategy that not only rectifies historical injustices and the resulting inequality and underdevelopment but also addresses contemporary ecological imbalances and the need for sustainable development. Indeed the link between exploitation, greed, colonialism and environmental racism and degradation is undeniable. Through this twin-prong approach of reparatory and climate justice, the Caribbean region can project a unified front, harnessing global attention and momentum to drive a transformative agenda. 

The recognition of reparations as a vital pursuit has gained momentum, marked by reports quantifying the magnitude of compensations owed to countries affected by the transatlantic slave trade. The CARICOM Reparations Commission (CRC) has been at the forefront of this movement, steering demands for compensation from former slave-holding nations. However, the absence of a cohesive strategy and negotiating team has hindered the actualization of reparations and other forms of compensation. This disparity between national and regional approaches must be bridged, especially in negotiations with European nations, private entities, and families.

To bridge this gap, the principles of reparatory justice can be interwoven with the fight for climate justice, encapsulated in the Bridgetown Initiative.  The reparations movement should not only address historical injustices but also the contemporary ones, such as climate change impacts disproportionately affecting our nations.

Moreover, CARICOM’s commitment to reparations can be extended to the international stage, involving bodies like the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth, although historically tied to Britain’s former colonies, has yet to include reparations on its agenda. However, just as it has advocated for climate action, the Commonwealth can become a platform for advocating reparatory justice. This mirrors the spirit of its past stances, such as opposing apartheid and climate change, as championed by Secretary-General Sir Shridath Sonny Ramphal. It is time for the Commonwealth to be a conduit for change by addressing past wrongs and supporting the fight against climate change in tandem.

As the world witnesses unprecedented attention and support for reparations, the Caribbean region holds a unique opportunity. The convergence of historical injustices and the climate crisis offers a chance to forge a common negotiating strategy. It is incumbent upon CARICOM states to develop a blueprint for strategically weaving reparatory justice into the pursuit of climate justice, thus strengthening their position on the global stage. By doing so, they not only demand compensation for historical atrocities but also work towards rectifying contemporary ecological inequities. The time has come for the Caribbean nations to embrace this multidimensional approach and collectively steer the trajectory of justice in their favour. One hand can’t clap.

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