Saving the planet is colonialism all over again; but instead of culture, we bring, nature.
Climate Change does not distinguish between the polluter and the polluted, yet international environmental policy does. As climate change comes to the forefront of international politics, we see an increasing trend of Western hypocrisy. From the hypocrisy of exploiting developing nations’ resource and labour whilst actively preventing them from industrialising, emerges the West’s latest form of colonialism: green colonialism. This enforces climate injustice, which can be seen in how the industrialised West disproportionately contributes to global warming and fails to take on its fair share of responsibility, whilst those who have contributed the least to the climate crisis are the most vulnerable. Both green colonialism and climate injustice centre around the pathological oppositions: the global west versus the global south, the developed versus the developing, white populations versus populations of colour.
Historically speaking, Britain has contributed significantly more to global warming than others. We have emitted greenhouse gases since the Industrial Revolution and lavished in the consequential wealth. However, now that this progress threatens the planet, we actively prevent developing nations from catching up. This hypocrisy is infuriating, especially when many died fighting against the invasion of neoliberal globalisation. Whether it is Ken Saro-Wiwa who was executed for his trying to break the political relationship between Shell and the Nigerian government or the victims of the 1977 Egyptian Bread Riots resisting IMF-mandated neoliberalisation of their economy; we must remember that we imposed this sentence on them. According to The Rivers Are Bleeding, of the 56 UK mining operations in Latin America, 32 have ongoing violent conflicts with natives. This epitomises Western hypocrisy and green colonialism; those who suffer the most are those who neither wanted nor benefited from capitalism.
Additionally, those who are affected the most contribute the least. The epitome of climate injustice is the fact that the Climate and Food Vulnerability Index found that the 10 most food-insecure countries generate only 0.08 per cent of total global carbon dioxide emissions. In contrast, North America, is home to 5 per cent of the world population but is responsible for nearly 18 per cent of global carbon dioxide emissions, with Europe just behind at 17 per cent. The West does not seem to be taking on its fair share of responsibility. Rising sea levels mean that the island of Kiribati will soon be submerged underwater. Desperate, they have been forced to buy 5,000 acres from Fiji in case they need to relocate. In the meantime, they use the land for agriculture and fish farming to ensure food security. Food insecurity was identified to be one of the most dangerous threats to human life as a result of climate change by the 2018 IPCC report, especially in the global South. In an interview with CNN, Kiribati’s president, Anote Tong, said:
‘Whatever is agreed within the United States, with China, it will not have a bearing on our future, because already, it’s too late for us’.
This was in 2014. Five years ago.
Today, the European Union and the UK are heralded as ‘leaders’ of the environmental revolution, paving the way for others, but in reality, we are the most hypocritical. Whilst passing legislation to ban single-use plastic, we export 611,000 tonnes of our plastic waste to countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia so that we don’t have to deal with it. Another example of this is our 2050 zero-carbon target. Whilst all good in theory, the target will heavily rely on resource extraction from the global south. The 2019 Global Resources Outlook found extraction industries are responsible for half of global carbon emissions and more than 80 per cent of biodiversity loss. This includes not only the process itself but also every extraction that ends in contamination, health poisoning and depletion of water. In fact, the minerals needed for the green technologies for us to achieve our target — cobalt, lithium and nickel — will result in an overall weakening of eco-systems and deplete our global natural reserves. Fifty-eight per cent of cobalt is currently mined in the Democratic Republic of Congo and has inspired conflict affecting millions over contamination of water, soil and air. Their mining areas are one of the top 10 polluted places in the world. It is indirectly because of the West that roughly two environmental defenders are murdered a week.
Can anything be done?
We must take greater action in tackling climate change. In treaties and environmental agreements, the norm of ‘common, but differentiated responsibility’ is banded about. In principle, it states wealthier, industrialised countries must take on more obligations as they contribute more to the climate crisis and have the resources to do so. Nevertheless, in 2009 the G8 pledged a measly $6 billion to be disbursed through World Bank loans. This forced vulnerable countries to effectively pay twice for their suffering as they had to obey the severe World Bank conditions. In comparison, relatively little obligation is asked of the West. Although a commitment by all signatories to helping developing nations combat the detrimental effects of climate change is outlined in the Paris Climate Agreement, there are no penalties or enforcement if a state fails to follow through. When this is paired with the successive failed environmental treaties, such as Rio in 1992 or Kyoto in 1999 and America’s pulling out of the Paris Agreement, there seems to be little hope for progress.
Ultimately, we live in an international order that is dominated by Western institutions and therefore Western priorities. As it moves towards recognition of our climate crisis and the urgent steps that are needed, we cannot allow the continuation of internalised white supremacy where Western lives are prioritised. Until we dismantle the neo-colonial control of energy companies and instead aggressively fight global warming and climate injustice, we will not see the radical change necessary to stop the climate tragedy. Unfortunately, as long as the West centres environmental politics around itself, we are going to repeat our mistakes.