Don’t promise climate aid, pay climate debt


The solidarity of the Black Lives Matter movement globally is bringing much-needed attention to issues of police brutality and systematic racism. However, there remains a contentious area of chronic racial injustice, frequently sidelined in the debate: climate change.

Links between racial injustice and climate change have never been more prevalent. Reductionist portrayals almost always created by white, European academics neglect concerns over social justice. Climate change affects us all globally but doesn’t affect us all proportionately. Until we critically accept that vulnerability to climate change is not a natural phenomenon but a product of social power relations, past and present, we cannot start to combat the issue effectively.

Neo-colonial politics and power dominate climate politics

As a collective, we are living through the so-called “Anthropocene”: an era of human dominance characterised by capitalist political economy, outlandish resource extraction, untenable rates of species extinction, destruction of biosphere integrity, ocean acidification, stratospheric ozone depletion, nitrogen fixing at astronomic levels, land-system change, and unprecedented green-house gas pollution (the list goes on…). But who suffers? And more importantly, how do we stop the suffering?

While global industrialisation lifted billions from relative poverty, producing technological feats previously resigned to science fiction, the cost was seemingly crippling and disparate. The UK contributed more to temperature change (per capita) than any other nation in human history, finding itself as one of the richest economies on the planet. The UK also happens to be one of the least vulnerable nations to the risks and hazards associated with climate change. Conversely, of the ten most vulnerable nations, eight were governed by European colonial empires, and subsequently find themselves amongst the most impoverished and environmentally damaged countries globally.

So, surely, it is self-evident that the western powers should pay “a climate debt” or reparation for damage inflicted? Seemingly a strategy of minimal aid in the case of absolute disaster has been the adopted policy. Claims in 2009 of $100 billon in affordable grants to nations vulnerable to climate change (all of which were ruled under colonial powers) have been pitifully enacted, and a policy of loans and finance adopted. Nations environmentally and socially decimated by western colonialism and now, climate change, are expected to pay interest on loans to repair and prepare for the vulnerability that this climate change is causing.

We are now seeing a continuation of this policy of effective neglect. Disaster aid over climate reparations (never providing post-colonial states with the ability to prepare and mitigate risk of climate disaster) will increasingly have disastrous consequences, including endemic drought in sub-Saharan Africa, crippling wildfires throughout the Brazilian Amazon, annual systematic decimation in the Caribbean by cyclones, displacement fatality and destruction of life in India’s low-lands, to give only a few examples. The threat to post-colonial nations in unending the climate reparations paid is minimal. Sea-level rise in the previously British-ruled Kiribati is threatening inhabitants to such an extent that the islands have purchased 5,000 acres from neighbouring Fiji for inevitable relocation.

The small Caribbean island of Haiti provides an example of the racial climate injustice ever present among the Global North. Crippling environmental degradation, exacerbated with each epidemic, drought and hurricane season goes back to French imperial rule. Indigenous peoples were enslaved and the nation’s lands left infertile.

Surely then, France is paying reparations? Quite the opposite. Despite a non-exhaustive list of cyclones, earthquakes, tsunamis, tropical storms, torrential rains and floods (not to mention being the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere), Haiti is still paying France back a $21 billion indemnity reparation. Yes. Haiti pays France reparations. And whilst nations jump to promise climate aid in the rare event that disaster does strike, this sidesteps the fundamental issues that caused the crises in the first place.

Neo-colonial power dominates climate politics. It is critical not to allow the broader science to mask underlying racial injustices. The western powers that caused the anthropogenic climate crises must accept responsibility. Climate change affects us all globally but not proportionally, so let’s accept responsibility, abandon paternalistic neo-colonialism and pay our climate debt.

Image: Lawrence Makoona via Unsplash

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