Colonialism, carbon colonialism and the case for blue carbon programs


The IPCC’s sixth report is now fully out with the third and final segment from Working Group 3 (AR6-WG3-Mitigation) in our hands. Now, the AR6-WG2-Impacts-Adaption-Vulnerability report mentions, for the first time, the dirty word “Colonialism” in one of its key claims for why we are in this mess, stating specifically, under vulnerability and exposure of ecosystems and people in their Summary for Policy Makers (SPM), “Vulnerability of ecosystems and people to climate change differs substantially among and within regions (very high confidence), driven by patterns of intersecting socio-economic development, unsustainable ocean and land use, inequity, marginalization, historical and ongoing patterns of inequity such as colonialism, and governance (high confidence) (SPM.B.2), and also, “Present development challenges causing high vulnerability are influenced by historical and ongoing patterns of inequity such as colonialism, especially for many Indigenous Peoples and local communities (high confidence)”(SPB.B.2.4).


Anyone who has been in any way involved with the UN system at the deep drill level would know that they do not use a single word in any of their reports lightly. In this case, the insertion of it has vast implications with respect to the case for various forms of reparations including the added dimension now how colonialism has created the conditions for increasing vulnerabilities with possibilities for colonized countries to demand, perhaps, who knows, “climate reparations of colonization?”


Whatever. The thing is in there and its impact should be determined, hopefully, in the near future. Now, WG3, reporting on this matter of mitigation (which is largely energy based and carbon reduction driven) screams at us throughout the document to stop burning fossil fuels yesterday. But it also says this “Shifting development pathways necessitates planning in a holistic manner, rather than thinking about discrete and isolated activities and actions to undertake mitigation. Further, the necessary transformational changes can be positive if they are rooted in the development aspirations of the economy and society in which they take place (Dubash 2012; Jones et al. 2013), but they can also lead to carbon colonialism if transformations are imposed by Northern donors or perceived as such (Chapter 4).


Whoa! Hold your horses. Does this mean what I think it means? That there is a very sinister shift to attempt to exploit already exploited countries that have been taken to the cleaners by northern countries to now have to clean up on behalf of those who ravished them in the first place?


Let’s unpack this a bit shall we? At COP26 northern countries like the UK chest-thumped their claims to reduce carbon by 78% compared to 1990 levels saying it sets in law the world’s most ambitious climate change target!. That claim is underpinned by a very simple instrument – “make sure we are clean within the ring fenced geography of UK and export all our dirtiest and most carbon intensive businesses such as garments (fast fashion) and prefab (construction) to such countries as India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Cambodia” Hah!


So what does that mean? Well simply, it means that these jokers have gotten better and better at talking about climate change mitigation and doing jack about it or shifting goals and targets so that they look clean when they are in fact double dirty – dirty in strategy, dirty in action. Despite all of these so-called actions, emissions of GHGs are still going up and up indicating that we are not actually reducing anything but shifting the source of those emissions from those that got rich emitting to those that are struggling to get by because of the more known form of colonialism and dramatically increasing problems for those countries, geographies and communities. That is disgusting folks. Additionally, paraphrasing and adding to climate scientist Dr. Adam Levy, “while carbon capture and storage is touted as a silver bullet its ability to cut emissions is pretty small, is dangerous to rely on and costly so the only things carbon capture has in common with a silver bullet is that it is small, lethal in the wrong hands and pointlessly expensive”.


The damning indictement of global hogwash and carbonwash


Let’s keep going down this road a bit more. At present, tree planting is the most common form of offsetting an in 2019 it sat at 56.4%, followed by renewable energy projects at around 21.3% and then by domestic appliance projects at about 8.8%. They all promise the triple win of climate response, forest conservation and community development. In reality? Offset projects can and most often do, fail catastrophically – and violently – on all three areas.


See, global carbon markets are based on developing regions of the world privatizing and commoditizing its land and forest resources. This is the start of the problem. In a few famous cases, Norway and UK companies bought thousands of hectares of land in East Africa and Uganda to plant fast growing trees like pines and eucalyptus and these resulted in massive depletion of ground water as well as forced evictions of hundreds of people from those areas because the agreements were skewed to badly and so exploitatively towards the northern countries. Additionally, once a specific area of land had been parcelled out and its credits sold those stands of forests must remain in place for literally ever – even if land use requirements of the host country changes making those land parcels essentially owned by others. All hail Carbon Colonialism!


So what do we do now as a developing country – or should I say as a HIPC (Highly Indebted Poor Country) mmm? Anyone? And remember I am not even going into the carbon space argument in this piece?


We have a very small land mass to call our own so let’s just face this fact right here right now: We cannot afford to give away any of it to massage the “feel-goodness” of a rich nation. Not for money not for environment. The cost of that money is just too darn expensive for us to bear human development wise and pure development wise. Yet, that money is certainly going to be important to our ICLCs.


This is where it makes much better sense to get into blue carbon. You see, we have oodles more ocean space than we have land space and ocean faunal riches, coral riches etc. that are based on water quality and marine and coastal flora plays a critical role in renewing those. So, going in for planting mangroves, seagrasses etc. a) makes sense environmentally b) sequesters more carbon that green carbon and c) can remain in those land masses until the sea cows come home and are let out to the ocean tomorrow and it will not hurt human settlements or expansion potentials one whit. Additionally of course, it will bring in dollars buddies while we are throwing zip for them since our piece of the oceans is going nowhere regardless of who purchases credits off it *wink wink*


Sri Lanka must therefore, make sure they play this hand smart. We must make sure that when we do our thing with carbon offsets, we own the process, we rule the process and we control the process. The first generation of colonization was brute force invasion. The second generation of colonisation was aid. Now, we have a new and improved third generation of colonization that can come in through the back door through carbon offsets. Let us make bloody sure that we don’t succumb for a third time in a row.

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