World - Towards Climate Justice: Unmasking Climate Colonialism and the Hidden Costs of Green Capitalism
“The climate policies of wealthy nations are colonialism in green. Pursuing climate ambitions at the expense of the world’s poorest people is not only hypocritical but also immoral, unjust, and a prime example of egregious green colonialism.”
The present era, known as the Anthropocene according to geologists, acknowledges the significant influence of human activities on the Earth’s land, atmosphere, and oceans. This term recognizes that human actions have had a major impact on the climate and natural ecosystems. However, some scholars argue that it assumes the climate crisis is a result of inherent human nature, rather than the actions of a specific group of individuals, such as colonialists, capitalists, and patriarchs. Furthermore, the term implies that the Earth was stable until recently, around 1950, when the ‘Anthropocene’ is believed to have begun.
This perspective overlooks the history of exploitation experienced by marginalized communities over centuries under these systems. Indigenous scholars have also raised concerns about how the term represents colonialist ideologies that sever the profound connections between humans, plants, animals, and the soil. Instead of valuing the Earth as a precious entity that sustains life, Western colonial legacies often operate within a framework that assumes unlimited extraction of natural resources, with the expectation that the Earth will replenish itself.
Climate colonialism is an increasingly discussed phenomenon which has come to prominence due to the current climate crisis. It involves countries and corporations, mainly located in developed countries, imposing policies on African or other developing nations that damage their environment for economically motivated advantages such as resource extraction or generating cheap labor opportunities abroad. This not only increases inequality but also entrenches existing colonial relationships between global North and South even further. By perpetuating extractive economic practices, environmental exploitation through carbon-intensive industry operations intensifies both historic injustice (e.g., slavery) and ongoing neoliberalism of our world’s most vulnerable regions.
There are two main perspectives to consider when examining the intersection of climate change and colonialism. Making this connection involves understanding that historic injustices are not confined to the past – their impacts are still felt in the present day. The first perspective focuses on the historical causes of climate change. It emphasizes that the Global North, comprising developed nations, bears the primary responsibility for the current climate crisis. In fact, Global North countries are responsible for emitting over 92% of carbon emissions. However, it is the Global South nations, which also bear the brunt of poverty resulting from exploitative colonial activities, that suffer the most severe consequences of climate change, particularly in the form of extreme weather events.
A 2022 report from Greenpeace UK aptly stated, “The environmental emergency is the legacy of colonialism.” This injustice has sparked a growing movement calling for climate reparations. Essentially, it calls upon wealthy countries in the Global North, who have played a significant role in causing climate change, to financially support the countries in the Global South that bear the least responsibility for its causes but suffer the most from its impacts. This call for reparations has its roots in the recognition that the effects of colonialism continue to persist.
A commitment was made by wealthy nations in 2009 to provide $100 billion per year in climate finance to developing countries by 2020 through 2025. Regrettably, as of 2023, this promised funding has yet to be fully delivered in any given year. This delay raises concerns and frustrations, as it hampers the ability of the most vulnerable countries to respond effectively and address the consequences of climate change.
Climate colonialism is taking another form through the exploitation of resources in the Global South by countries of the Global North in order to advance their own climate agendas. The University of Oxford describes this as occurring under the guise of “development projects” and “carbon offsetting,” enabling Western countries and corporations to continue polluting while disproportionately affecting BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) communities in both developed and developing countries. Moreover, many of these solutions involve displacing Indigenous populations from their lands, leading to widespread violations of human and land rights.
A clear example of this exploitation can be seen in Global North-supported afforestation and reforestation projects, which have been found to involve human rights abuses, land seizures, and violence in various regions of Africa, Latin America, and Indonesia. As Vijaya Ramachandran, director for energy and development at the Breakthrough Institute, emphasized in 2021, pursuing climate ambitions at the expense of the world’s poorest people is not only hypocritical but also immoral, unjust, and a prime example of egregious green colonialism.