Can the Caribbean Live within the Doughnut? Environmental and Social Performance of Five Island Nations

This study examines the social and environmental performance of five Caribbean nations (Trinidad & Tobago, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Haiti and Cuba) using the Safe and Just Space (SJS) framework proposed by Kate Raworth (2012). For each country, values for 11 social and 7 environmental indicators are calculated. This is the first study that uses the Safe and Just Space framework for the Caribbean region, and with a focus on small island states.

Johan Rockström and colleagues first proposed the Planetary Boundaries (PB) framework in 2009, where they identify the urgency to remain within nine biophysical planetary boundaries if humanity must continue to thrive. The authors claim that by crossing these boundaries we would significantly risk our own survival and cause large-scale, abrupt or irreversible environmental changes. In 2012, Kate Raworth added the social dimension to the Planetary Boundaries framework, which she defines as the Safe and Just Space (SJS). She argues that humanity must not only remain within biophysical thresholds, but as part of the sustainability mandate, also aspire to achieve quality of life where no one is left behind. In other words, how can humanity achieve an acceptable quality of life at the lowest environmental costs, or in Raworth’ s words, “can we live within the Doughnut?”

Drawing on the SJS framework, this study calculates 11 social and 7 environmental indicators for the 5 Caribbean nations to assess their sustainability performance. To this end, the method proposed by O’Neill et al. (2018) is taken as a starting point. The 11 social indicators include Life Satisfaction, Social Support, Nutrition, Assess to Electricity (Energy), Access to Improved Sanitation, Health and Life Expectancy, Income, Equality, Democratic Quality, Education and Employment. The 7 environmental indicators are: Climate Change (represented by CO₂ emission), Phosphorous Flows, Nitrogen Flows, Blue Water, eHANPP (embodied Human Appropriated Net Primary Production), Ecological Footprint and Material Footprint.

The results suggest that none of these five nations is in an ideal position within the doughnut of the environmentally safe and socially just space. Four of the nations (Trinidad Tobago, Dominican Republic, Jamaica and Cuba) exceed at least four out of seven planetary boundaries and none of them achieve more than half of the social outcomes. Haiti exceeds the boundary for CO₂ emission and functions slightly under the eHANPP boundary (that measures the intensity of use of biomass), but achieves none of the 11 social outcomes.

While the relationship between the environmental and social variables is multi-metric, a few patterns and correlation between environment and social indicators can be observed. In general, the achievement of most social outcomes such as access to electricity, sanitation, income, nutrition, employment, education, social support and life satisfaction are positively related to emission or material consumption, such as CO₂ emission, especially from emission from fossil fuels, phosphorous flow, eHANPP, ecological footprint and material footprint. Based on performances of these five nations, the achievement of social outcomes is not closely related to blue water as one of the environmental performance indicator. There does not exist clear positive relationship between environmental indicators and social indicators such as healthy life expectancy, equality and democratic quality.

Associated spaces

Dominica , Jamaica