By Professor Rosalea Hamilton, Chair, Caribbean Philanthropic Alliance

In April 2019, at the WINGS peer-learning event in Jamaica, the seeds of a dynamic climate philanthropy initiative, the Caribbean Tree Planting Project, were planted. The event, which brought together foundations from across the Caribbean, enabled a discussion about creating a philanthropic network in the region and aligning activities to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This discussion seeded the need to better harness philanthropy to address Caribbean development challenges, including climate change. 

The opportunity to fertilise this seed came in July 2019 at the High Level Political Forum (HLPF) Special Event in New York on ‘Philanthropy & the SDGs’ organised by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA). By September 2019, the Caribbean Philanthropic Alliance (CariPhilAlliance) was launched in New York with a mission and objective to improve the lives of Caribbean people by harnessing financial and other resources to accelerate the achievement of the SDGs in the Caribbean by 2030. We immediately began the process of mobilising climate philanthropy. 

Why climate philanthropy? 

Our decision to start with climate philanthropy was easy! Climate change is very real for us in the Caribbean. The CariPhilAlliance came into being during the aftermath of the catastrophic Category 5 Hurricane Dorian, which devastated The Bahamas. In this context, and given our shared experience with frequent climate events, it was easy to forge a consensus around a climate philanthropy initiative, especially one in which all of us, not just the experts, can participate.

For us in the Caribbean, climate change means rising sea levels, stronger and more frequent hurricanes, changes in rain patterns and temperatures, longer dry seasons and shorter wet seasons, all contributing to the increasing intensity of natural disasters. For those of us who live on small islands, climate change also means the potential disappearance of our home, nationality, cultural identity, and country. The Caribbean contributes less than 1% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, yet we bear the brunt of the social, economic, and environmental devastation caused by climate change. Every climate event devastates lives, directly and indirectly. So as we tackle climate change, climate activism becomes essential to address fairness, equality, human rights, and the historical responsibilities for climate change. Climate Justice is therefore central to our work.

The Caribbean Tree Planting Project (CTPP) 

In February 2020, the CTPP was launched at the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) Action Network on Post-Disaster Recovery held in Puerto Rico, with a Commitment to Action to achieve the following objectives:

  1. To plant at least one million trees and engage related climate action in at least 10 Caribbean countries (by June 2021);

  2. Promote Caribbean Youth and Caribbean Diaspora activism around climate change; and

  3. Highlight the significance of multi-stakeholder partnerships and collaborative actions, especially among philanthropists, required to accelerate the achievement of SDGs, especially SDGs 13 (Climate Action), 15 (Life on Land) and 17 (Partnerships).

Although the Covid-19 pandemic disrupted our plans, we pressed on with laser focus on the existential threat we face and our declining capacity to mount an effective response due to the worsening social and economic consequences of the pandemic. By December 2020, we reflected on our work and the  findings of the Sustainable Development Report 2020, which revealed the 12 worst performing SDGs reported by 16 Caribbean countries, pre-Covid1. We concluded that we must not only continue to pursue our objectives, despite the setbacks, but we should also expand our initiatives to include education, community engagement/empowerment and financial sustainability, to better address the worse performing SDGs in the Caribbean and the impacts of the pandemic.

By June 30 2021, with no dedicated grant funding, we engaged 22 Caribbean countries/territories2 and mobilised multi-stakeholder teams of volunteers, including 4,854 youths (under 35) and 347 public/private sector organisations (including philanthropic organisations), that planted 1,517,463 trees in 19 Caribbean countries/territories. Buoyed by this success, we rolled out the first ever Caribbean Tree Planting Week from July 5 to 11, 2020 aimed at building public awareness of the importance of planting trees under the theme ‘Protecting Biodiversity and Cultural Heritage in the Caribbean.’ Planting trees is one of the best mitigation actions that can be taken to limit the increase of​​ global temperatures as trees store carbon, help the soil maintain its nutrients, prevent flooding, and more broadly, they represent a critical part of the region’s environmental and cultural heritage. 

Some key lessons for mobilising climate philanthropy

  1. Youth activism is necessary. Climate change is essentially about securing a livable future for the youth. The enthusiasm and commitment of Caribbean youth has been priceless. They have organised and led a CariPhilAlliance Tree Planting Ambassador programme which has provided them regional and international exposure to individuals and organisations who care about their future. Youth activism must be nurtured and supported.

  1. Participatory leadership fosters innovative solutions. Throughout the execution of the CTPP, we actively encouraged participation in the decision-making process. Addressing climate change is complex. Therefore, innovative thinking and strategies must be encouraged and supported, especially among young people, in our search for solutions. During the early phase of the pandemic when activities were disrupted, creative strategies emerged through participatory engagement with the youth which provided a lifeline for continuity during a very challenging phase.

  2. Broad-based, multi-sectoral partnerships are essential. There are many climate-related activities being undertaken across the Caribbean. Stakeholders from various sectors are best able to connect the dots and create linkages to increase outcomes as well as to enhance efficiency, knowledge sharing and sustainable solutions. The CTPP facilitates sectoral linkages since tree planting not only addresses climate change but also provides clean water, decent income, reduces pollution, provides food, protection, homes for animals and humans, and more. Seen through this broad, multi-sectoral lens, we were able to forge multi-sectoral partnerships and also show how planting trees enables us to address all 17 SDGs.

  1. Commitment to climate action is indispensable to meaningful outcomes. In the absence of adequate financing, it was the commitment of every volunteer who actively participated in the CTPP that yielded the tremendous results we achieved and is the basis for sustainability. If funding supports demonstrated commitment to action, outcomes will be enhanced.

These lessons have contributed to our success in mobilising climate philanthropy in the Caribbean and we hope they help other organisations plant meaningful climate action.

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1. The worst performing SDGs are those where more than 60% of the 16 Caribbean countries reported major or significant challenges remaining or decreasing or stagnating trends. They are SDG #2 – No Hunger; SDG # 6 – Clean water; SDG# 9 – Industry & Innovation; SDG#10 – Inequalities; SDG#13 - Climate Change; SDG#15 – Life on Land; and SDG #16 – Peace & Justice. See https://sdgindex.org/reports/sustainable-development-report-2020/

2. The 22 Caribbean countries/territories are: Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Bay Islands of Honduras, Belize, Cayman Islands, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Puerto Rico, Saint Lucia, Saint Maarten, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, Turks and Caicos Islands, Saint Vincent and The Grenadines, and the US Virgin Islands.


Professor Rosalea Hamilton

Professor Rosalea Hamilton is the Chair of the Caribbean Philanthropic Alliance and the Chief Executive Officer of the LASCO Chin Foundation, where she leads the charge for early intervention to help Jamaica’s at-risk youths develop the relationships, goals and capacities needed to break the cycle of poverty and crime. She is also a professor and the Vice President-Development and Community Service at the University of Technology, Jamaica.

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