Towards a decolonial global Green New Deal

We must avoid repeating the same patterns of colonial exploitation and extraction that led to the climate crisis in the first place.
Andrea Gillespie

Calls for a Green New Deal in Europe and North America have gained traction in recent years, yet most of these frameworks often come at the expense of countries in the Global South.

While we transition away from fossil fuels, we must be careful not to repeat the same patterns of colonial exploitation and extraction that led to the climate crisis in the first place.

‘Green’ doesn’t equal ‘clean’ when you take into account the supply chains and vicious mineral extraction taking place predominantly in the Global South. It’s therefore important to ask what kind of Green New Deal we should pursue.

The sacrifice zones

While climate groups in the UK are now acknowledging the importance of climate justice in relation to social justice, many are still pushing for policies that are nation-state centred and will ultimately continue to sacrifice countries in the Global South.

In my country of birth Chile, the increase in lithium and copper extraction has created new sacrifice zones in the region of Atacama — areas dangerously contaminated by mining and intense pollution which disproportionately affect low-income and racialised communities. These sacrifice zones extend beyond those officially recognised, encompassing the region of Atacama due to water shortages, environmental degradation and dispossession.

These zones are now arising from processes associated with renewable energy generation as well as fossil fuel extraction. The Atacama Salt Flat holds over a quarter of the world’s lithium reserves — essential for things like electric vehicles — and is seeing a sharp rise in extraction, falling only behind Australia in terms of worldwide lithium production. The extraction process has already consumed 65% of the area’s water supply in a region that gets less than an inch of rainfall a year.

The Atacama Salt Flat holds over a quarter of the world’s lithium reserves and is seeing a sharp rise in extraction. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Moreover, the separation process involves toxic chemicals, such as hydrochloric acid, that can spill into local water supplies and impact the region’s air quality. In the town of San Pedro de Atacama, residents, including the Indigenous Lickan Antay community, have found mining depleting their water supplies and affecting their farming and pastoral practices. Communities in the Atacama thus face a form of slow violence and continue to be sacrificed by extractive industries.

Nation-state based Green New Deals continue to rely on ​​colonial resource extraction for energy. Iterations of the Green New Deal in the Global North, such as those championed by Alexandra Ocasio-Cortes in the US and current propositions in the UK  and EU, replicate a colonial extractive framework by exploiting finite resources for the production of ‘green’ technologies at the expense of communities in the Global South. Merely replacing a fossil fuel extractive economy with a ‘green’ extractive economy would lead to a devastating increase in lithium, cobalt, silver and copper production, creating further sacrifice zones in the Global South.

Iterations of the GND replicate a colonial extractive framework by exploiting finite resources for producing 'green' technologies like EVs. Image: Marco Verch via Flickr.

Groups like the Atacama Indigenous Council (CPA) are resisting lithium extraction and organising against mining companies such as SQM that exploit the desert in the name of ‘green’ energy. We must stand in solidarity with communities resisting extractivism and fight against green colonialism.

Moving beyond the nation-state

We have seen how Green New Deal frameworks in the Global North conceived within the confines of the nation-state can devastate countries in the Global South. We must fight for a decolonial Green New Deal that goes beyond the nation-state and avoids reproducing colonial structures that render distant communities and regions sacrificable.

It’s time to shift away from narrow electoral politics and focus on building movements transnationally. As Max Ajil argues, we must abandon “the failed electoralist strategies of social democracy” and commit instead to “building a radical movement of movements”.

And we can’t simply appeal to the political class to adopt ‘green’ policies in a capitalist system. We need to create a new system, one that moves away from an extractive economy and centres the needs of people and planet. The transition away from fossil fuels must be a structural transition that rejects the extractive, colonial, heteropatriarchal, racial capitalist structures that lie at the heart of the climate crisis.

This means creating regenerative economies centred around collective care and relationality. Regenerative economies and practices can be seen across the globe, from agricultural cooperatives and eco-feminist communes in Rojava to seed saving networks across Colombia, Argentina, Chile and Peru. A regenerative framework stands in opposition to an extractive one that violently takes without care or consideration for renewal, and instead forms a reciprocal relationship to land and ‘nature’.

Relationships of reciprocity emphasise interdependence, interconnection and a relationship built on cooperation rather than domination. It’s important to note that reciprocal relations between humans and non-humans are not new but rather, as Glen Coulthard relates, form part of “longstanding [Indigenous] experiential knowledge”. A feminist, anti-colonial, global Green New Deal would disrupt colonial dualisms that regard humans as separate from non-humans, contesting the binaries that enable extractivism.

Instead of retreating to a politics within the borders of the nation-state, there is a need for transnational solidarity that builds global, ecological, anti-capitalist, anti-colonialist and anti-patriarchal movements. Of course, global doesn’t mean we ignore the local but rather pay attention to local specificities while building transnational coalitions. Transnationalism doesn’t stand in opposition to the local but rather emerges out of specificities and local struggles.

A global Green New Deal would also be centred on justice, ensuring that the countries and corporations that have contributed the most to the climate crisis pay reparations for the damage they’ve caused. As Naomi Klein writes, so-called “developed countries, which represent less than 20 percent of the world’s population, have emitted almost 70 percent of all the greenhouse gas pollution that is now destabilising the climate”. Countries that have committed the most damage through ongoing colonial extraction and violence cannot now dictate the terms of a Green New Deal. They must pay reparations, return stolen land, cease neocolonial extractivism and stop pretending they are ‘leading the way’.

An anti-colonial Green New Deal centres the Indigenous and low-income communities in the Global South that are most affected by the climate crisis while being the least responsible. Moving towards a feminist, decolonial, global Green New Deal involves uprooting racial capitalist and extractive colonial structures and instead embracing relationality, reciprocity, interdependence and a politics of care and transnational solidarity. We need to reject nation-state based Green New Deals that perpetuate green colonialism and instead build radical, global movements.

Andrea Gillespie is a campaigner, writer and performer based in London. She is passionate about climate justice and art activism.

Feature image: Wikimedia Commons.

Andrea Gillespie

Want to support us?

We’ve got big plans. We want to widen and increase our output. We want to produce good quality environmental journalism. And we want to expand our team. But running a media organisation costs money – and we’re run entirely by you. Head over to our Patreon page and consider donating today. Thank you.

Support Us