By Lisa Boushy
In the midst of a global climate change crisis, what does the future hold for Small Island Developing States?
For the Cayman Islands, which is not a member of the United Nations and thus not affiliated with the UN-recognised SIDS, many other Caribbean nations offer models for progress.
Helping to point the way is James Ellsmoor, an award-winning serial entrepreneur and writer dedicated to his passion for sustainability, renewable energy and climate change policy — with a particular expertise on SIDS.
As a sought-after speaker and consultant to leaders in non-governmental organisations, the private sector and government, he covers many topics from environmental protection to disaster preparedness to solar power installation.
The 26-year-old self-described “digital nomad” has travelled to more than 50 countries and made Forbes magazine’s “30 Under 30” list in 2017. He’s now a regular Forbes contributor and also publishes an online newsletter through his company, Island Innovation.
His combined writings offer readers a collection of sustainable development stories from remote, rural and island communities around the world, while tackling many issues that small island nations experience, such as combating the invasion of sargassum, waste-management problems, and the sometimes predatory behaviour of cruise lines, to name a few.
Ellsmoor has more than 100,000 combined followers across various social media platforms and is often interviewed on podcasts and international radio and TV programmes. He attributes the majority of his success to being good at connecting people and bridging divides.
Ellsmoor is also the co-founder and director of Solar Head of State, an international nonprofit that works with governments in the Caribbean and Pacific islands to raise awareness of renewable energy. The organisation’s mission is to help world leaders become green leaders and the team includes international grassroots activists as well as solar energy social entrepreneurs.
Projects have included high-profile solar power installations on iconic government buildings in countries like Jamaica, St. Lucia and the Maldives. In 2018, Ellsmoor helped create the Jamaica Solar Challenge in partnership with local youth groups. Through the initiative young people across the country created innovative communication projects to tell their communities about the benefits of renewable energy. He’s also worked on the support team for the Republic of the Seychelles at various UN climate change conferences.
Last month he spoke at the UN Climate Action Summit in New York where he discussed various opportunities for international collaboration between islands; he also led an event at the Clinton Foundation as part of Solar Head of State.
Many SIDS share similar sustainable development challenges, including small but growing populations; limited resources; remoteness and susceptibility to natural disasters; and high energy, communication and transportation costs, to name a few.
While Ellsmoor has yet to visit the Cayman Islands, he has heard of its ambitious goals for renewables and is eager to collaborate further and hopeful of making an impact. “I imagine many of the issues in Cayman are similar to other island stakeholders in the region,” he says.
“Aruba is very proactive in renewables. Jamaica, Antigua and Barbados have all taken great steps with reducing plastic and polystyrene. Orkney is also a great example for innovation and renewables, and the University of the Highlands and Islands for regional and digital education.”
Virtual Island Summit
Island Innovation has collaborated with the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States to create the world’s first-ever Virtual Island Summit, which is running from 6-10 Oct.
The summit has been designed to connect islands to enable the sharing of common experiences — good practices, solutions and ideas — through a digital platform and will include an impressive roster of guests from policymakers to entrepreneurs to academics to NGO leaders. Best of all, as an entirely online summit, which is free to join, it leaves a zero carbon footprint.
“The summit focuses broadly on sustainable development which encompasses environment, society and economy. We have a great range of panels including topics like energy, climate, journalism, development, digital communications and more,” says Ellsmoor.
The summit has attracted speakers from more than 50 islands, and organisers expect 5,000 participants, he added. “Sign-ups already range from Russia to Fiji to Patagonia to the Arctic. Of course, the Caribbean is also well represented.”
While the concept of a virtual summit is not new, Ellsmoor says that it has mostly been confined to the realms of digital marketing.
“We are taking that concept, innovating it, and applying it to a totally new sector: sustainable development,” he says.
“Reducing the need to travel is important. Of course, we are not going to do that totally and there’s still many cases when travel is necessary, but I also want to encourage people to think more carefully about the opportunities to use digital communications to share information and collaborate.
“What’s even more important to me is the ability to increase participation. Often these events are very expensive to even get to and so those that can be involved are limited. I want all different groups to participate from academia, private sector, governments and NGOs.”
From rural to digital nomad
Ellsmoor grew up in Shropshire, UK, and although islands were not directly part of his life in the rural community, the environment has always been his passion from a young age; he holds a master’s degree in island studies from the University of the Highlands and Islands in Scotland.
While Shropshire remains his home base, he spends the majority of the year working remotely from different parts of the world on projects that most interest him. Earlier this year he spent six months in Medellin, Colombia, one of the biggest digital nomad centres in the world.
“I don’t know where I am going to be in six months let alone five years, but as long as I keep progressing and growing then I know I’m happy with that.”
Registration is still open to join the (free) virtual summit. Visit www.islandinnovation.co/summit/ to learn more.