Carbon Brief: 'How colonial rule radically shifts historical responsibility for climate change'
Posted by Ian M on December 7, 2023, 12:21 pm
New study from CB. Interesting as far as it goes, and good to see that they're starting to take account of these factors. As they acknowledge, there's a bunch more complexity in allocating responsibility for these emissions than is really possible to calculate with much accuracy. For example: where do you draw a line for a true end for colonial rule? I would say it still hasn't ended, and the colonial powers locked in patterns of resource extraction and trade (plus the elite classes to supervise their ongoing management) which determined the course of the supposed 'post-colonial' economies. And why does the US not figure in the analysis as a colonial power? Just because they didn't have official colonies in the way the british empire did, doesn't mean they didn't invade, occupy and economically dominate vast areas of the globe. FFS that's what the country was built on!
The article mentions 'international trade' as a complicating factor, but conspicuous by their absence are the words 'capitalism' and 'corporations'. It's a limited analysis focusing on nation states and the purported responsibility of individual citizens when the former are treated as mere technical boundaries, barely impeding the international flow of capital, and the latter are obliged to do what they can to sell themselves within that system or starve. It's not like it's a new phenomenon either - the conquest, rape and pillage of India was first set in motion by the East India Company after all... The analysis would benefit from a critique of capitalism basically, and attributing responsibility to the elites & transnational business interests that run the show, not the individual citizen/consumer/slaves caught in the net and forced to live according to its insane dictates.
Anyway, here 'tis. Long article so I've only copy/pasted the first bit & one of the many charts, posted as a vid. Worth the long read though, IMHO.
Revealed: How colonial rule radically shifts historical responsibility for climate change
26.11.2023 | 7:00pm
Historical responsibility for climate change is radically shifted when colonial rule is taken into account, Carbon Brief analysis reveals.
The first-of-its-kind analysis offers a thought-provoking fresh perspective on questions of climate justice and historical responsibility, which lie at the heart of the global climate debate.
In total, humans have collectively pumped 2,558bn tonnes of CO2 (GtCO2) into the atmosphere since 1850, enough to warm the planet by 1.15C above pre-industrial temperatures.
This means that, by the end of 2023, more than 92% of the carbon budget for 1.5C will have been used up – leaving less than five years remaining if current annual emissions continue.
However, responsibility for using up this global budget is highly unequal. The wealthiest countries – and within each nation the wealthiest individuals – have taken a disproportionate share.
Previous Carbon Brief analysis already showed the US (20%) to be the world’s largest contributor to warming. Yet it implicitly allocated none of the responsibility for emissions under colonial rule to the colonial rulers, even though they held ultimate decision-making authority at the time.
The new analysis tests the implications of reversing this assumption. It finds the US (21%) and China (12%) still top – but the share of former colonial powers growing significantly.
The French share of historical emissions rises by half, the UK nearly doubles, the Netherlands nearly triples and Portugal more than triples. Together, the EU+UK’s responsibility for warming rises by nearly a third, to 19%.
India is among the former colonies seeing its share of historical responsibility fall (by 15%, to below the UK), with Indonesia down by 24% and Africa’s already small contribution also dropping 24%.
How cumulative national CO2 emissions from fossil fuels, land use, land use change and forestry change over time during 1850-2023, million tonnes, when accounting for emissions under colonial rule. The remaining carbon budget for a 50/50 chance of staying below 1.5C is shown by the doughnut chart in the bottom right. Source: Carbon Brief analysis of figures from Jones et al (2023), Lamboll et al (2023), the Global Carbon Project, CDIAC, Our World in Data, the International Energy Agency and Carbon Monitor. Animation by Carbon Brief.
Notably, former colonial powers such as the UK and the Netherlands are much more prominent in the history of cumulative global CO2 emissions shown in the animation above.
While former colonies such as India and Indonesia are less prominent as a result, they still have significant emissions in the post-colonial era, pushing them into the top 10 as of 2023.
As before, the new analysis is based on CO2 emissions from the burning of fossil fuels and cement production, along with land use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF).
It covers the period from 1850 – often taken as the baseline for current warming – through to 2023, drawing primarily on a recent compilation of emissions estimates.
The assignment of colonial responsibility for emissions is largely based on research into the emergence of independent nation states since the early 19th century.
Other key findings of the analysis include:
As a group, the EU+UK collectively ranks second for emissions within its own borders (375GtCO2, 14.7% of the global total). This climbs by nearly a third after adding colonial emissions, to 478GtCO2 and 18.7% of the global total – just behind the US.
The UK ranks fourth in the world when accounting for colonial emissions – jumping ahead of its former colony India. Including emissions under British rule in 46 former colonies, the UK is responsible for nearly twice as much global warming as previously thought (130GtCO2 and 5.1% of the total, instead of 76GtCO2 and 3.0%).
The largest contributions to the UK’s colonial emissions are from India (13GtCO2, cutting its own total by 15%), Myanmar (7GtCO2, -49%) and Nigeria (5GtCO2, -33%).
The Netherlands accounts for nearly three times as much warming when accounting for colonial emissions (35GtCO2 and 1.4% of the total, rather than 13GtCO2 and 0.5%). This is largely due to LULUCF emissions in Indonesia, under Dutch rule, of 22GtCO2.
Africa – the vast majority of which was under colonial rule – sees its share of historical emissions fall by nearly a quarter, from 6.9% to 5.2%. Despite a 21-times larger population, this 5.2% share is only fractionally higher than the UK’s 5.1%.
When weighted by current populations, the Netherlands (2,014tCO2 per person) and the UK (1,922tCO2) become the world’s top emitters on a cumulative per-capita basis. They are followed by Russia (1,655tCO2), the US (1,560tCO2) and Canada (1,524tCO2).
On this per-capita measure, China (217tCO2 per person), the continent of Africa (92tCO2) and India (52tCO2) are far behind developed nations’ contributions to warming.
Many former colonial powers are also net CO2 importers today. While data on CO2 imports and exports is limited, available figures further raise their shares of historical emissions.
These findings reinforce the significant historical responsibility of developed countries for current warming, particularly the former colonial powers in Europe.
While they account for less than 11% of the world’s population today, together, the US, EU and UK are responsible for 39% of cumulative historical emissions and current CO2-related warming.
Many of these countries now have small and declining emissions. Yet their relative wealth today – and their historical contributions to current warming – are recognised within the international climate regime as being tied to a responsibility to lead, not only in terms of cutting their own emissions, but also in supporting the climate response in less developed countries.
The article below sets out why cumulative CO2 matters, how colonial rule changes responsibility for warming and where colonial emissions come from. It then looks at the impact of weighting emissions on a per-capita basis and accounting for emissions embedded in traded goods.
The article also includes a sortable, searchable table showing these key metrics for each country, as well as further details on the methodology used to produce this analysis.
Why cumulative CO2 matters
How colonial rule changes responsibility for warming
Where colonial emissions come from
How population size affects responsibility for warming
How emissions imports and exports affect responsibility for warming
Table: Historical emissions and colonial responsibility
Methodology: Historical emissions and colonial responsibility
Methodology: Why this analysis starts in 1850
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