The Guardian • Issue #1987

COP26: Colonial plunder

  • by Anna Pha
  • The Guardian
  • Issue #1987

As the COP26 climate change meeting in Glasgow entered its second week, the divide between developing and developed countries and their colonial history has been laid bare. Historically, developed countries, the driving force of climate change as the beneficiaries of the great wealth brought about by the industrial revolution and colonial plunder, will not acknowledge their financial responsibilities or make necessary pledges to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

The refusal of western countries to carry the greater part of the cost to cut emissions would be another form of colonial oppression, imposed upon developing nations.

In a statement the representative from Bolivia said: “There is a history of broken promises and unfulfilled commitments by the developed countries, which has a very strong bearing on where we are at today in terms of temperature increase and its impacts. And, Science recognises this.

“Those who advocate for science cannot just look at the future and ignore the past. The two are interlinked. Our [developing] countries are undertaking ambitious climate action, in addition to addressing challenges of eradicating poverty and developing sustainably.

“The principles of equity and common but differentiated responsibilities are non-negotiable for us. As we go into week two, we urge our partners to negotiate in good faith, and stick to mandates. We owe it to the thousands who have gathered here amidst a pandemic in hope.

“We cannot fail them. I urge my developed country partners to not be a roadblock to their hope.”

The words of western leaders on the first two days of the Summit have so far not been matched by the necessary political and financial commitments to keep global warming below the necessary 1.5°C.

Their pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, known as nationally determined contributions (NDCs), are inadequate. The recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on the science of climate change made it clear that developed countries must decarbonise within the next decade. 2050 will be too late.

Many countries have increased their original NDCs considering the urgency, but not Australia which remains a laggard on climate change, refusing to increase its 26-28 per cent reduction on 2005 levels by 2030. Instead, the government plans to expand coal and gas production. The net-zero target of 2050 is too little too late and is still to be backed by any concrete plans. Prime Minister Scott Morrison is leaving it to the “market gods” (his big business mates) and states.


Australia stands out as an international pariah, even refusing to enter into non-binding agreements for methane gas reductions and deforestation. Yet Australia is the second largest per capita producer of emissions.

The overwhelming majority of countries have accepted the necessity of phasing out coal and gas as quickly as possible and ending subsidies to the fossil fuel industry. The Australian government’s policy, on the other hand, is to continue handing out multi-billion dollars in subsidies to the fossil fuel companies and promote the opening of new coal mines and expansion of gas.

Australia’s pavilion at Glasgow even promoted gas giant Santos!

“Australia’s target of net zero emissions by 2050 is inconsistent with its plans to massively expand coal and gas production. New fossil fuel projects under development in Australia would result in 1.7 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions each year – equivalent annual emissions of over 200 coal-fired power stations, twice as much as global aviation.” (The Australia Institute)

The Australian government should be redirecting fossil fuel subsidies to a just transition with the development of renewable energy sources and the retraining and redeployment of workers.


The frustration of developing countries is palpable as developed countries attempt to throw off their financial responsibilities. In line with the UN Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Paris Agreement, they are obliged to provide financial support for developing countries. All developing countries are eligible to receive this funding.

The UNFCCC, which underpins the Kyoto and Paris Agreements as well as the Glasgow Summit, was adopted in 1993 at the Rio Earth Summit. It focused on a green economy in the context of sustainable development, equity, and poverty eradication.

The first Principle of Article 3 states: “The Parties should protect the climate system for the benefit of present and future generations of humankind, on the basis of equity and in accordance with their common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities.
“Accordingly, the developed country Parties should take the lead in combating climate change and the adverse effects thereof.” (

Developing countries are the most severely impacted by climate change and are poorest equipped financially and technologically to mitigate climate change. They face huge costs for adapting to current or expected climate change and to make a just transition to renewable energy. Representatives from developing countries reported on the devastating impact that climate change is already having on their lands, oceans, and means of existence. Pacific island nations have their very existence threatened by rising sea levels.


One of the issues being negotiated is a new financial pledge from developed countries. The previous goal was set under the Convention at an annual US$100 billion per annum in contributions by the year 2020. This was not met, and is not expected to be achieved until 2023 or 2024.

Developed countries are now attempting to run roughshod over the Convention and Paris Agreement by refusing to take on additional pledges as required over and above an ongoing $100 billion per annum.

Already highly indebted developing countries are seeking grants, not loans. COVID has only added to their economic woes. The servicing of these debts is crippling their economies and takes away much needed funding for social development. Additional loans to address climate change would only further hinder their development and wellbeing of the peoples.

Russia, India, and China have been singled out by politically motivated leaders of some western countries as not moving fast enough. India and China, recognised under the Convention as developing countries, are not expected to do the heavy lifting. China is moving swiftly in poverty alleviation and towards peak emissions, while India can hardly be categorised as developed.

Developing countries are also asking for additional funding beyond that for adaptation to address damage and loss arising from climate change. At the time of writing developed countries had not agreed.

Outside the conference venue, 150,000 protesters from a range of environmental, social justice, unions, political, church, and other organisations took to the streets of Glasgow as part of a global day of action, all calling for swift and decisive action.

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