The sixth and final report of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on the impact of global warming on our planet, published earlier this month, reiterates many of the warnings of its predecessors: mainly that climate change threatens disaster global.
However, it contains a key difference. For the first time in the institution’s history, the IPCC has included the term “colonialism” in the summary of its report.
However, a 2020 OECD report found that the richest nations never reached the promised $100bn, paying only around half the sum in 2013 and 2016 despite an annual increase in climate finance from the US. richer nations to poorer ones. What’s worse is that, instead of providing the promised fund, most climate finance from high-income countries to low-income countries took the form of loans.
Colonialism, the report states, has exacerbated the effects of climate change. In particular, historical and current forms of colonialism have helped increase the vulnerability of specific people and places to the effects of climate change.
The 46 poorest nations were found to only account for 17 percent of the climate finance scheme between 2016 and 2020.
What is Climate colonialism?
Colonialism is the rule of a stronger nation over a weaker nation. From the European colonial perspective, colonialism is a practice of gaining control over other lands and communities while exploiting oneself economically. Conquest has been around since the earliest civilizations, and its ideology is the root cause of the damaging climate crisis. Why? Because it comes with the idea that everything on earth is here to be claimed and mined, bought and sold.
Climate colonialism often refers to the exploitation of the resources of the Global South by nations of the Global North for their green agendas. Ecological catastrophes are caused, among other things, by the unnecessary waste of our planet’s resources. Almost always an excuse for rich industrialized countries to benefit from the exploitation of developing countries.
Carbon offsetting is often found to be a practice whereby rich countries buy the right to release more greenhouse gases (GHGs) than they had agreed to and invest in carbon sequestration facilities in the South.
In other words, in the quest to make the EU the world’s first climate-neutral region by 2050, Brussels is reverting to its old ways and deploying what we call climate colonialism.
Monsoon on steroids
It was not certain that the 90-year-old diversion dam, an ancient engineering triumph designed by local British rulers but since cited for safety concerns and described as “decrepit”, would endure, making it a potentially fatal burden and a symbol of the corrosive impact of colonialism on much of the world.
The dam held, despite Pakistan’s “monsoon on steroids”. Other results have been less fortunate. A German non-profit organization’s list of the 10 countries most affected by extreme weather events related to climate change during the first two decades of this century includes eight former colonies (one is not technically a country and remains a territory).
Clearly, one part of the world was exploited for the benefit of the other, helping to set each up for very different experiences as the climate crisis worsens.
Awareness of this dynamic appears to be growing. The IPCC, a panel of leading scientists that has published widely followed reports on climate change since 1990, explicitly mentioned “colonialism” for the first time earlier this year. The practice left behind “development challenges” that increase vulnerability to climate shocks, he said.
As a historian of climate science, he would argue that a discussion of colonialism should also be included in the first section covering climate science.
Research increasingly shows that climate science is rooted in imperialism and colonialism. Historian Deborah R. Coen has shown that key elements of contemporary climate change science owe their origin to the imperial ambitions of the 19th-century Habsburg Empire. It was the imperialist policies of the Habsburgs, for example, that helped scientists understand the relationship between local storm development and atmospheric circulation.
Furthermore, much of the historical weather data relied upon by contemporary climate scientists was produced by colonizing powers. Take the data extracted by scientists from the logbooks of English ships from the mid-19th century. This information was recorded as part of an effort to better connect the territories colonized by the British Empire and accelerate the exploitation of other people’s land and water.
It remains to be seen how the IPCC will deal with these kinds of connections between climate change and colonialism, but I hope that it will soon recognize colonialism in its three working groups. What is already clear is that the links between climate change and colonialism are innumerable and involve confronting an uncomfortable range of legacies.
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