The link between colonialism and climate change is examined

University of Cambridge research fellow Harriet Mercer on how colonialism has fueled global warming and made many communities more vulnerable to its effects

The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Sixth and final report on the effects of global warming on our planet, published earlier this month, repeats many of the warnings of its predecessors: first of all, that climate change is looming global catastrophe if we don’t do something about it. However, it contains one key difference. For the first time in the institution’s history, the IPCC included the term “colonialism” in the summary of its report.

Colonialism, the report claims, has aggravated the effects of climate change. In particular, historical and ongoing forms of colonialism have contributed to the vulnerability of specific people and places on the effects of climate change.

The IPCC has been producing scientific reports on climate change since 1990. But in its more than 30 years of analysis, it has never discussed the links between climate change and colonialism: until now.

The addition of a new term to the IPCC lexicon may not seem significant. but colonialism is a deeply complex word. In relation to the practice of gaining full or partial control of another group’s territory, this may include the occupation of that land by settlers, as well as the economic exploitation of land for the benefit of the colonizing group.

In Australia, where I’m from, British colonists invaded Aboriginal lands in the late 1800’s and have worked to establish a permanent settlement there ever since. This was not a peaceful process. These were violent expropriations, including widespread massacre of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who forced removal by these people from their country, and the Forced Separation by children from their families.

Linking climate change to such acts of colonization requires acknowledging that historical injustices do not succumb to history: its legacy lives on in the present. researcher have shownfor example, that the extent of the bushfires in Australia today – including the catastrophic one Fires 2019-20 – is not exacerbated by climate change alone. It is also reinforced by the colonial expulsion of indigenous peoples off their land and the destruction of their land Land Management Practices who used skillfully controlled burning to make landscapes bloom.

For this reason it is important that the term colonialism is not only included in the full, more technical part of the latest report. It is also in the short “Summary for politics‘, the most quoted and read part of the IPCC reports.

By associating climate change with colonialism in this summary, the IPCC is sending a message to world governments and policymakers that addressing the effects of climate change cannot be achieved without also addressing the legacy of colonialism. It’s a message that also acknowledges how that Movement for climate justice has long advocated recognizing the unequal impacts of climate change on diverse populations.

Timely Connections

There are several reasons why the IPCC finally chose to recognize this link. The people most affected by colonization have engaged in and gained greater access to the IPCC report-making process. Previous reports were criticized for missing authors from indigenous groups and non-Western nations.

In the most recent report, however, approx 44% of the authors are from “developing and emerging” countries, up from 37% in the previous report. Writers come out too more diverse disciplinary backgroundsincluding anthropology, history and philosophy as well as natural and economic sciences.

Since the IPCC completed its fifth report in 2014, there has also been a steadily growing body of literature showing the links between climate change and colonialism. For example Potawatomi philosopher and climate justice scientist Kyle Whyte is cited in the latest report for his research into direct links between indigenous people’s dispossession of their lands and environmental damage.

But for all the significance of the IPCC’s new recognition, it is only part of the most recent report that develops this connection. IPCC reports consist of three sections prepared by different ones working groups. The first section assesses the physics of climate change; the second deals with the effects of climate change; and the third looks at possible ways to reduce these effects. Only the second section deals with colonialism.

climate history

As a historian of climate knowledge, I advocate that an analysis of colonialism should also be included in the study first section about climate science.

research increasingly shows that climate science is rooted in imperialism and colonialism. The historian Deborah R. Coen has shown that key elements of contemporary climate change science owe their origins to it imperial ambitions of the 19th century Habsburg Empire. For example, it was the Imperialist policies of the Habsburgs that helped scientists understand the relationship between local storm development and atmospheric circulation.

Furthermore, much of the historical meteorological data that contemporary climate scientists rely on was produced by colonial powers. Take the data extracted by scientists from the logs of English ships from the mid-19th century. This information was recorded as part of a effort better connect from the colonized areas British Empire and accelerate the exploitation of other people’s land and water.

How the IPCC will deal with such links between climate change and colonialism remains to be seen, but I hope it will soon recognize colonialism in all three working groups. It is already clear that the links between climate change and colonialism are legion and involve grappling with an uncomfortable set of legacies.

Harriet Mercerresearch associate in climate history, University of Cambridge.

This article is republished by The conversation under a Creative Commons license. read this original article. The link between colonialism and climate change is examined

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