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Climate-smart zone in Caribbean backed by Sir Richard Branson, Bill Gates and Usain Bolt

An eclectic group, including Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness, Sir Richard Branson, Bill Gates and Usain Bolt, are working together to make the Caribbean the world's first climate-smart zone, securing it against climate change and natural disaster, as well as boosting economic growth and social development

The Caribbean is aiming to become the world’s first climate-smart zone following the launch of a new programme today spearheaded by the Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness and Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson.

The Caribbean Climate-Smart Accelerator seeks to secure the region against the dangers of climate change, boost economic growth and social inclusion, and set up a more robust system for those affected by the natural disasters that plague the region.

Eight-time Olympic gold medallist Usain Bolt and musician Sean Paul are among the ambassadors of the initiative, which so far has 26 countries covering more than 40 million people backing it.

Partners include Microsoft founder Bill Gates, Elon Musk’s Tesla, Airbnb and The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), which confirmed it will provide $1bn (£780m) for climate-smart investments across the region.

Prime Minister Holness said: “Being climate-smart means putting the people of the Caribbean at the centre of all we do – to protect them from the challenges of climate change.

“The Caribbean accelerator will also encourage job creation, social inclusion and economic growth.

“These benefits will only come when governments, the international community and the private sector work together to overcome barriers and generate the investment that will benefit us all.

“That is why I am excited by the potential of the accelerator to join the
Caribbean with global partners who share our vision to see investment grow in the years ahead.”

Virgin is investing in sustainable infrastructure in the region. Its investment company BMR Energy will join the accelerator as it buys a four megawatt solar project from American energy company NRG in St Croix that was damaged during Hurricane Irma in September last year.

Sir Richard added: “Our goal is ambitious and bold: We are creating the world’s first climate-smart zone.

“We have a vision of a Caribbean which is greener, stronger and more resilient than ever before – built on innovation, powered by clean, sustainable energy and accelerated by public and private investment.”

climate-smart zone
Sir Richard Branson, Founder of Virgin Group assisting Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness, Prime Minister of Jamaica with a more climate-friendly dress code


Partners behind the world’s first climate-smart zone

The IDB’s $1bn investment was pledged at French president Emmanuel Macron’s Paris One Planet summit last year.

It builds on an existing portfolio of more than $200m (£157m) to support low-carbon emission solutions, sustainable infrastructure and energy efficiency projects.

The bank also announced today that it will directly invest $3m (£2.4) in the accelerator to help it get up and running, with the first $1.5m (£1.2m) available in 2018.

The World Bank will simultaneously provide in-kind services - goods, equipment and services other than financial funding - worth a total of $1m (£780,000) per year for the next three years.

Together with the Caribbean Climate-Smart Accelerator, Airbnb is working to make the community more hospitable for those affected by regional natural disasters.

Its hosts and the company itself will waive fees for disaster survivors and relief workers, 11,000 of which have already benefited from the initiative known as Open Homes.

These organisations make up just a handful of the 40 public and private sector groups that have backed the accelerator, also including former US president Bill Clinton’s Clinton Foundation.

climate-smart zone
Sir Richard Branson, Founder of Virgin Group having a quick chat with Usain Bolt

Parallel to the accelerator’s progress, the government of Caribbean state Grenada will begin work on a $300m (£235m) project to create the world’s first climate-smart city.

President of the IDB Luis Alberto Moreno said: “The IDB Group reaffirms its continued and historical commitment to the Caribbean and will work with leaders of the region to improve lives by creating climate-smart and vibrant economies, where people are safe, productive, and happy.

“We hope that through this Climate-Smart Coalition, in addition to offering new affordable financing, we will use the IDB’s extensive regional experience and presence on the ground to work closely with the people of the region to design their Caribbean of the future, today.”


What is a climate-smart zone?

The aim of a climate-smart zone is to reduce climate vulnerability and build economic security for its citizens.

They are characterised by:

1. Reduced vulnerability to a range of climate-related hazards and natural disaster
risks through building resilient infrastructure.

2. Reduced greenhouse gas emissions from transportation and other pollutants.

3. Healthy ecosystems on the sea to support the Blue Economy.

4. Healthy ecosystems on land for food security.

5. Enhanced energy security via promotion of energy efficiency, renewable energy
and use of low carbon sources.

6. Incorporation of one or more of the Sustainable Development Goals in all major
projects sponsored by Governments.