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How climate colonialism affects the Global South

September 28, 2022
topics: Climate Change
by: Gerardo Bandera
located in: India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Mozambique, Madagascar, United Kingdom, USA, Netherlands, France, Japan, Brazil, Ecuador, Germany
tags: carbon offset, climate change, climate colonialism, climate crisis, colonialism, discrimination, indigenous people, neocolonialism

The climate crisis is a global issue. However, it has an incontestably more destructive and noticeable effect on communities living in the Global South, which have been marginalised and have less resources to adapt or respond to natural catastrophes.

Meanwhile, countries in the Global North, who are primarily responsible for the majority of cumulative greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that contribute to climate change, are pressuring the world to change their habits and practices through well-intentioned, but ultimately hypocritical environmental campaigns.

Unsurprisingly, the industrialisation of the Global North over the past two centuries has generated most of the manmade greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that contribute to climate change. In fact, it is estimated that the Global North is responsible for 92 percent of GHG emissions.

Yet these very same high-polluters have called on the rest of the world to reduce their emission levels, which would entail a curbing of their industrialisation and perhaps affect their economic growth. Moreover, while corporations and governments from the Global North have exported their climate footprints - setting up factories abroad, contributing to deforestation or unsustainable agriculture - others have also exported their green climate agendas abroad, without acknowledging how they are contributing to climate colonialism.

What is climate colonialism? 

Climate colonialism refers to the exploitation of resources and power by Global North countries when dealing with climate change and environmental policies. The push to reverse the devastation that industrialisation has caused the global environment has spurred a flurry of excellent solutions that aim to reduce GHG emissions, deter and reverse deforestation and focus on the conservation of natural environments.

However, at times, the Global North abuses its position of power to ‘export’ its solutions abroad, especially when solutions are for-profit. There is also a huge disparity in the funding that the two economic spheres are able to offer in the fight against climate change.

What is climate apartheid?

Similarly, climate apartheid refers to the disparity between how climate change affects wealthy and non-wealthy people and countries. It underscores the perverse truth that low and middle income individuals and communities, which have contributed less to manmade climate change, are the most affected by the natural catastrophes it has engendered.

People and countries with more resources - which at times have been acquired through the systemic exploitation of other countries or people - are able to better respond to climate catastrophes and prepare for the adverse effects of the climate crisis.

How does climate change disproportionately affect the Global South?

The effects of climate change are being felt by the Global South in terribly disruptive ways: Farmers in India have had their crops and farmlands ruined by unusual snowstorms and destructive heatwaves; Mozambique has been devastated by a series of cyclones, which have grown more potent as the planet warms; droughts in Madagascar have forced people to flee their homes in search for more habitable lands.

While natural catastrophes do not discriminate between human economies, countries in the Global North that are more resource-rich and are not subject to exploitation have been able to recover more quickly, as well as implement strategies to reduce future damage. 

Climate change contributes to poverty, to the destruction of property and infrastructure, to reducing crop yields, to displacing communities and to destroying lives. The fight against climate change is therefore a biased one, in which the rich are able to adapt and survive while the poor suffer and are pushed further into poverty.

It is important to consider that some countries in the Global South have only recently received independence from colonial rule. In fact, when Queen Elizabeth II ascended to the throne in 1952, the United Kingdom still held over 70 colonies around the world.

In many cases, the oppression and expropriation of colonialism in the Global South engendered a delay in both industrialisation and climate adaptation, such as in Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Where some former-colonist nations are able to defend themselves against natural disasters (like The Netherlands, which has actualised its infrastructure to combat rising sea levels), countries in the Global South have been unable to prepare for these eventualities: Pakistan, for example, has faced torrential floods in the past month that have displaced thousands of people, ruining their livelihood. 

What are some examples of climate colonialism? 

Carbon offset projects, such as afforestation or reforestation, are initiatives by which organisations replant areas that were subject to deforestation, or prevent future deforestation from occurring in order to decrease the amount of carbon in the atmosphere.

However, carbon offsets are sometimes purchased to claim a smaller carbon footprint without truly reducing the amount of GHG emissions produced. Moreover, these reforestation projects are typically done in countries in the Global South, such as in Brazil and Ecuador, and have been shown to involve land grabs from indigenous people, who are evicted from their homelands. 

Unfair demands for climate change funding and green-infrastructure renovations are also forms of climate colonialism.

Developing countries have repeatedly pointed out that Western countries, which industrialised much earlier and often at the expense of the Global South, are responsible for the bulk of the globe’s cumulative environmental damage, GHG emissions and therefore for the effects of global warming. Accordingly, they demand climate compensation from the wealthier West in the shape of funds that would help the Global South meet GHG emission goals, industrialise in sustainable methods, and have a higher resilience for impending climate emergencies. 

In the past, wealthier nations have promised financial support to the Global South, even going as far as guaranteeing $100 billion in annual funding for infrastructure innovations. However, the OECD has found that Western countries have failed to provide these funds, while still demanding at last year’s COP26 that all countries commit to radical changes in infrastructure.

Meanwhile, they continue to subsidise the fossil fuel industry, while pointing fingers at the rest of the world. 

Read our guide on Carbon Offsets and Carbon Neutrality

What are just climate solutions? 

Any attempt to tackle the climate crisis must take into account the inequality that has been generated both by systemic colonialism and by the nature of how the climate crisis is affecting the world’s regions.

One way to counter past climate colonialism is through 'loss and damages.' Loss and damages refers to remuneration by developed countries when developing countries do not have the resources to adapt further to climate change, or are unable to recover from natural disasters.

Global South countries point out that these natural disasters are the result of the Global North’s industrialisation with fossil fuels, as well as their current neo-capitalist practices, and that they therefore have a moral imperative to help the rest of the world adapt to the changing environment. 

Climate justice advocates also point out that solutions should be inclusive. Any attempts by the Global North to dictate the world’s response to the climate crisis is an example of neocolonialism. Instead, climate conferences should take into account the opinions and capabilities of the people who are most affected by climate change, and be receptive to non-western methods of adaptation.

Indigenous communities, for example, have been detrimentally affected by climate change, yet have largely been ignored by global climate organisations.

Indigenous communities, which are safeguards of the natural world, offer a variety of first-hand knowledge on climate adaptation techniques that promote resilience, and must therefore be included in any path set forward.

Understand why indigenous people should lead the fight against climate change.

The fight against climate change is a human fight - an existential battle that, in theory, transcends geopolitical delineations and socio-economic stratems. Nevertheless, the manner in which the battle is fought must take into account colonial history and the insidious ways that colonial thought persists and is institutionalised. 

Photo by Mike Newbry

Article written by:
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Gerardo Bandera
Assistant Editor, Author
India Pakistan Bangladesh Mozambique Madagascar United Kingdom USA Netherlands France Japan Brazil Ecuador Germany
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