The ‘Climate Change Dictionary’ is all about the buzzwords in the global politics of climate change, and climate colonialism is making all the waves recently. The concept of climate colonialism has become increasingly prevalent in international discussions, with the media reporting a heated debate over compensation for climate damages at the Bonn Climate Change Conference in June 2022. Moreover, the 2022 IPCC report has also included the term ‘colonialism’ for the first time, signalling its recognition of the issue. In the modern context, climate colonialism often refers to the exploitation of resources of the Global South by Global North nations for their green agendas.
Although the current era is being described as “Anthropocene” — ‘anthropo’ for human and ‘cene’ for new — highlighting how human activities dominate the Earth’s land, atmosphere and oceans, significantly impacting its climate and natural ecosystems, yet some scholars say that the term assumes that the climate crisis has been caused by universal human nature, rather than the actions of a minority of colonialists, capitalists and patriarchs. This term, in effect, denies the history of people who have been exploited by them for centuries. Instead of treating the Earth like a precious entity that gives us life, Western colonial legacies operate within a paradigm that assumes that they can extract its natural resources as much as they want, and the Earth will regenerate itself.
Moreover, many Global North-backed projects for afforestation and reforestation, for example, have been revealed to involve human rights abuses, land grabs and violence in Africa, Latin America and Indonesia. They include removing communities from their homes and having so-called “green police” shoot people who enter the forests they had lived in for generations.
The Norwegian company Green Resources’ afforestation project for carbon offsetting in Mozambique, for instance, barred local communities from accessing water resources, rivers and roads. It even walked back on its promises to create job opportunities and build infrastructure for locals after having indigenous leaders sign contracts to lease their land, knowing they did not fully understand the terms.
All the while, rich nations’ campaigns to switch to electric vehicles and smartphones drove up demand for cobalt, a metallic element usually sourced from countries in the Global South. In 2019, a group of Congolese families sued Apple, Google, Dell, Microsoft and Tesla for aiding the death and injury of their children working in cobalt mines. The plaintiffs argued that these companies had been aware of child labour in the supply chain. When countries are switching to renewable energy, indigenous communities in the Global North suffer as well. Marginalised communities living in the Global North are like a pocket of the Global South in the Global North, as they aren’t benefiting from the fossil fuels extracted from or buried in their land. They shouldn’t be bearing the burden from the Global North.