The Global Climate Agenda and Carbon Neo-Colonialism
List of speakers

Climate change is becoming an increasingly important and politicised topic on the global agenda. The third day of the 17th Annual Valdai Club Meeting opened with a session, titled "A Changing Climate: How Environment Will Influence Politics". Summing up its results, Oleg Barabanov, programme director of the Club, writes about the weather in the world today and in the future.

Climate change is becoming an increasingly important and politicised topic on the global agenda. The great challenges associated with the interaction between man and nature have begun to be perceived more and more seriously as a basis for practical action, both on the global and national levels. There is also growing support for such initiatives among the general public in different countries.

If we talk about climate change, which is traditionally the focus of problems associated with the human impact on nature, then, on the one hand, at least according to the mainstream scientific community and public opinion, a consensus has been developed on the anthropogenic nature of global warming and related problems. But further disputes arise regarding the most effective methods of developing a practical global response to climate change. These disputes are often politicised and reflect the opposing approaches of different groups of countries. To a large extent, these discussions reflect a general controversy about the historical responsibility for colonisation (and neo-colonisation), when the present developed countries of the West accumulated their wealth and industrial power through the exploitation of raw materials from the countries and regions of the Third World. Now, in turn, it’s claimed that they limit the right to development for developing countries.

This general ‘anti-colonial’ discourse is reflected in discussions about climate change. The logic behind the introduction of a cross-border carbon tax in the EU is as follows. In order to combat greenhouse gas emissions and transition to carbon neutrality, the EU is introducing expensive environmental and energy-saving measures within its enterprises, which increase the cost of European products and thereby lowers their global competitiveness. Therefore, in order to protect its producers, the EU is introducing a carbon tax on imports from those countries whose carbon footprint in the production of products exceeds the European one. On the one hand, this is true.

But, on the other hand, developing countries emphasise the scientific postulate that, after emission, greenhouse gases affect the climate not at once, but stretched over time for decades, or even more. The level of global warming that we have now is not due to emissions generated in recent years, but primarily due to the emissions of past periods of the industrial era, which were associated with colonialism. And in terms of the accumulated volumes of greenhouse gas emissions over the entire industrial era, Great Britain is in first place, followed by the other developed countries of the West. Therefore, from the point of view of ‘global justice’, it’s argued that we should not talk about a cross-border carbon tax from the EU, but, on the contrary, about global sanctions against developed countries for their responsibility for the accumulated cross-border carbon damage. This, as we agree, changes the picture.  It changes the political agenda.
Therefore, in practice, we can assume that the introduction of a cross-border carbon tax by the EU will only trigger a wave of reciprocal protectionism on the part of developing countries and lead to new trade wars.

It will by no means contribute to the solution of the problem of control over the emission of man-made greenhouse gases.

Another aspect of the emission control problem is associated with the return of production (now with a low carbon footprint) and jobs to the developed countries of the West. This is primarily seen in the United States, where the declared Green New Deal strategy symbolically refers to the times of Franklin D. Roosevelt and his New Deal strategy to create new jobs. The corresponding strategies of the US Democratic Party (most actively promoted by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez) envisage the creation of 30 million new jobs in the US by 2030. It’s proposed that at least 5 million would be associated with providing for the new "green" production and infrastructure. This is great from the point of view of American domestic interests. The same logic, albeit to a lesser extent, is evident in the EU. But in developing countries, this position causes justified reproach that the attention of the US and EU on control over emissions is only a pretext for a global redistribution of the industrial map of the world and the transfer of new low-carbon production to their own countries. So the new carbon ideology serves only to strengthen their own economic competitiveness, and nothing more. The developing countries, if such a scenario is realised, will only face the threat of complete deindustrialisation, prohibitive carbon export duties, and an increase in unemployment and social problems.
We agree that all this is defined by the term "neo-colonialism". In this case, we are talking about its new subspecies - carbonic neo-colonialism.

Thus, here again, the same old colonial stories of exploitation and inequality are justified by the good intentions of the fight against climate change. At the same time, it is extremely important that understanding this background, that the carbon discourse only serves the purposes of global exploitation, makes public opinion in developing countries increasingly sceptical about climate initiatives in general. As a result, the good and absolutely necessary goal of a global search for answers to the challenges of climate change can generate wide pan-regional opposition and be perceived as another trick of the rich West and the "golden billion" to consolidate their dominant position in the world. This can, in turn, undermine trust and faith in any environmental initiatives in the future.

In addition to the debate over the control of greenhouse gas emissions, the issue of carbon sequestration, which is associated with the absorption and sequestration of carbon in soil, forests, swamps and other natural reservoirs, is becoming increasingly politicised. Thus, there are countries that have the appropriate natural conditions (Brazil, Congo, Indonesia, Russia) to make a real positive contribution to the carbon balance in the world, which exceeds their own harm from emissions. In terms of carbon balance (emissions vs. removals), by definition, this exceeds the measures to control emissions from the West. However, within the dominant carbon discourse, the potential of countries with high carbon sequestration are practically not taken into account at all, and it is only about calculating emissions and possible penalties and cross-border taxes for a high carbon footprint in production. Obviously, such a situation justifies coordinated countermeasures on the part of a group of countries with a high sequestration potential and their independent counter-play on the field of global carbon politics.

In general, there is a danger that the definitely necessary and aesthetically beautiful ideology of carbon discourse may fall prey to political biases and unfair economic competition. It may indeed share the negative fate of many previous, aesthetically beautiful ideas for improving the world.

A Changing Climate. The Fifth Session of the 17th Annual Meeting