Climate change is rooted in the intersection of capitalism and imperialism, which is often at the expense of low income and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) communities. Although many economically powerful states credit our warming planet to the extensive greenhouse gas emissions, these states often fail to consider the effects of climate colonialism and imperialism in their agendas. These exclusionary tactics prevent an approach and framework that support climate policies that guarantee a habitable planet for generations to come.
It is imperative to examine every initiative that international leaders propose from an environmental justice lens. We must not only ask the question of how states’ plans would decrease carbon emissions, but who it would affect the most in the process. The question of “who” often reveals a deeper layer of displacement of Indigenous populations. Doreen Martinez, a sociologist who studies climate colonialism, states that climate colonialism is “the domination of less powerful countries and peoples through initiatives meant to slow the pace of global warming” (Doreen E. Martinez).
A prominent example of climate colonialism is the Norwegian Green Resources Company, the largest forest development and wood processing company in East Africa. A 2014 study from The Oakland Institute exposed The Norwegian Green Resources Company’s climate exploitation of 17 Ugandan villages, particularly Kachung and Bukaleba. The Oakland Institute’s findings show that the company did not provide economic benefits to the village populations, as the company employed less than 3% of inhabitants throughout the villages (Lyons and Ssemwogerere). In addition, the report found that Ugandans working for the Green Resources Company received low pay and unlivable wages. Workers had to provide their working tools and healthcare — which is a breach of the Ugandan Workers Compensation Act (2000) and international laws and regulations (Lyons and Ssemwogerere). The Norwegian Green Resource Company decided to exploit Ugandan lives for the trade-off of reaching their green energy goals. Although Uganda is a sovereign state, the calculated exploitation and imperialism from the Global North, who pride themselves as champions in climate justice efforts, is an embarrassing abuse of power.
Morocco’s occupation over Western Sahara since 1975 is an example of a state utilizing its occupation to advance its climate policy development. The annexation of Western Sahara has left Indigenous Sahrawi with a strip of desert called the “Free Zone” that is uninhabitable and susceptible to climate change (Cotugno). Although the Sahrawi endure direct impacts of climate change, they continue to be systematically excluded and exploited in the international process of climate negotiations (Democracy Now!). To combat and mitigate anticipated drought and food insecurity, the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic released a comprehensive plan to address climate change in the region (“Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic: First Indicative Nationally Determined Contribution”). However, this plan was excluded at the Conference of the Parties in Glasgow (COP26), as Western Sahara is not recognized as a self-governing territory by the UN. Instead, Morocco used the COP26 platform to declare its climate action plans. Morocco’s plan shows that thirty percent of the solar energy would be produced within the illegal context of occupation (Democracy Now!). Morocco’s greenwashing tactics may generate the renewable energy that our planet needs, but through occupational methods that strip the independence, sovereignty, and societal justice away from the Indigenous Sahrawi.
As new ominous climate data is released, world leaders are working to develop plans to reduce carbon emissions. Specifically, the US has proposed the Green New Deal and Biden’s Plan for Climate Change. Although these plans look promising, we must learn from Uganda and Western Sahara that auspicious initiatives can hide under the veil of exclusive and exploitative development strategies that remove Indigenous peoples from climate negotiations platforms. As global citizens, it is imperative to be aware of these methods and advocate for progressive social justice frameworks with proper consent and inclusivity of Indigenous peoples. There is no such thing as a comprehensive environmental plan without environmental justice.
Bretou-Klein, Johana, et al. “Climate Change and the Important Role It Plays in the Western Sahara Conflict.” LSE International Development, 22 June 2021, blogs.lse.ac.uk/internationaldevelopment/2021/03/23/climate-change-and-the-important-role-it-plays-in-the-western-sahara-conflict/.
“Climate Colonialism.” Events - Oxford Talks, talks.ox.ac.uk/talks/id/48b2c915-3965-496e-8dc0-ade137f218cb/.
“Climate Colonialism: Why Was Occupied Western Sahara Excluded from COP26 U.N. Summit in Scotland?” Democracy Now!, 17 Nov. 2021, www.democracynow.org/2021/11/17/exclusion_of_western_sahara_cop26_scotland.
Cotugno, Ferdinando. “The Saharawi People of Western Sahara Are Still Waiting for a Homeland. Tensions Are Now Rising among the Young.” Geographical, geographical.co.uk/people/the-refugee-crisis/item/3731-the-saharawi-people-of-western-sahara-are-still-waiting-for-a-homeland-tensions-are-now-rising-among-the-young.
Doreen E. Martinez. “The Right to Be Free of Fear: Indigeneity and the United Nations.” Wicazo Sa Review, vol. 29, no. 2, University of Minnesota Press, 2014, pp. 63–87, https://doi.org/10.5749/wicazosareview.29.2.0063.
Lyons, Kristen, and David Ssemwogerere. “Carbon Colonialism: Failure of Green Resources' Carbon Offset Project in Uganda.” The Oakland Institute .
Oates, Lori Lee. “Climate Change Is Colonialism.” NiCHE, 29 Jan. 2022, niche-canada.org/2021/12/13/climate-change-is-colonialism/.
“Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic: First Indicative Nationally Determined Contribution.” Office of the Prime Minister, Nov. 2021.
Briggs, Helen. “Carbon: How Calls for Climate Justice Are Shaking the World.” BBC News, BBC, 2 May 2021, www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-56941979.