climate change equality globalisation

Colonised countries and carbon footprints

In my book I write about the connection between climate change and colonialism, and how old injustices and power structures are reproduced through the climate crisis. There’s a whole other book to be written about how colonialism has shaped global emissions, contributes to specific vulnerabilities, and holds back solutions. But that’s for another time.

Today, I wanted to share a simple comparison that I’ve been presenting in talks this week. First of all, here is a map of the world showing countries that were colonised in 1920.

And in this second map, we see current carbon emissions per capita.

I find it rather striking that so many of the countries in dark green are the same in both maps. Countries that were colonies in 1920, with a few exceptions, are likely to be least responsible for climate change today, a hundred years later.

I don’t want to read too much into these two images, which I compiled for my own curiosity a couple of weeks ago. I offer them for discussion, because I think the recurring pattern here is worth reflecting on in the run-up to the COP26 climate talks. While colonised countries may be formally free and independent, how much have the underlying power imbalances of global politics really shifted? Who is served by current global institutions, and who is overlooked? And at a time when many people claim climate leadership who shouldn’t, what does decolonial climate leadership look like?

5 comments

  1. Why is Korea not down as colonised when Taiwan is? Both were colonies of Japan in 1920.

    I think the Kazaks & Georgians and others who were under the Soviet empire would beg to differ that they weren’t colonised.

    This seems a very Western focused view of colonialism.

    Also Iceland is colonised is Ireland isn’t. What are the rules?

    1. Aha, because I uploaded an early draft of the map, apologies. This is the one from the talk. I’m sure I’ve missed a few others, this being a thought experiment on my part rather than a systematic historical study. The broader point stands.

      Since it’s 1920, I wasn’t entirely sure what to do with Ireland. It’s right in the middle of the struggle for independence. Formally, it’s independent in 1921, but the British were not practically in control in 1920, so I left it gave the Irish the benefit of the doubt.

  2. Positive Money (https://positivemoney.org/about/exploring-banking-race-and-colonialism-blog-series/) are hosting a Zoom webinar ‘The Case for Climate Reparations’ Wednesday 27th October from 7pm: ‘This webinar aims to help raise climate reparations to the forefront of climate change discourse. It will bring together a diverse panel of speakers with wide-ranging expertise within activism, economics, climate finance and racial justice.’ Register here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/the-case-for-climate-reparations-tickets-191050295577

  3. I hope this is reasoably relevant here: I found the discussion at 26:00 mins in this podcast pretty thought-provoking:
    Podcast: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/w3ct1l4k
    Journal article: https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rspb.2021.1871
    Lauren Rudd argues that racist attitudes are affecting conservation too. She says that letting communities who live in protection areas run them will mean they are managed very differently, but arguably better. To me this seems very relevant as we think how to engage in nature-based solutions to the combined climate/ecology emergency.

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