Tuesday January 18, 2022

Climate justice

December 04, 2021

In November this year, the Scottish port city of Glasgow was the host of an event that once again brought the urgent question of climate change to global focus: COP26.

The United Nations has invited signatories to its Framework Convention on Climate Change to a ‘Conference of the Parties (COP)’ every year for almost 30 years. This year’s summit in Scotland was the 26th such gathering.

COP26 was well organised and received significant media attention. But like most climate summits that came before, it failed to achieve any meaningful results.

“One of the biggest fights at the United Nations climate summit in Glasgow,” as the New York Times newspaper stated in a November 12 article, was “whether – and how – the world’s wealthiest nations, which are disproportionately responsible for global warming to date, should compensate poorer nations for the damages caused by rising temperatures.”

This question is at the heart of the issue of climate justice for without addressing it the urgent task of mitigating climate change degenerates into richer nations continuing to pollute the earth and destroy the environment while gathering in useless conferences to feel better about themselves.

The roots of these rich nations being ‘disproportionately responsible for global warming’ is much older than these 26 conferences. “Rich countries,” the same New York Times report points out, “including the United States, Canada, Japan and much of western Europe, account for just 12 percent of the global population today but are responsible for 50 percent of all the planet-warming greenhouse gases released from fossil fuels and industry over the past 170 years.”

One hundred and seventy years before now places us smack in the middle of the 19th century – which puts these rich nations at the peak of their colonial plundering of the earth. Central to the question of climate change is, therefore, the history of US and European imperial and colonial conquest and destruction of the globe, and the current predatory system of globalised capitalism it gave birth to – a system that requires products to be engineered in Silicon Valley, California, produced in sweatshops in India or China using materials from Africa, and shipped to stores in New York, London, Rio de Janeiro and beyond.

Any time a cargo vessel is stuck in the Suez Canal for a few days we feel how widespread and rooted is this network of planetary savagery that began with the European domination of the globe and continues apace damaging the earth.

It is not accidental that the rich nations responsible for half of all historical CO2 emissions – the US, Germany, UK, France, Italy, Spain, Belgium, Netherlands and 15 others – are also the former colonial powers of the world. While Europeans were ruthlessly subjugating peoples across continents and recklessly destroying their local knowledge, philosophies of life, cultures of cohabitation with the earth, and natural habitats, they were entirely oblivious to the fact that they were also ravaging the earth.

The main consequence of the European so-called Industrial Revolution was not only colonial conquest but also the environmental calamities we witness today. The Europeans called their savagery ‘modernity’, the rest of us called it ‘colonialism’, but its overreaching effect on the planet we all live on was the ongoing climate crisis.

Excerpted: ‘Climate justice and decoloniality’