The Green Colonialism of Glasgow

Proceedings were disrupted somewhat on Tuesday after several negotiators tested positive for COVID-19, requiring others to self-isolate, but slow progress has been discerned. A strong push has been made to finalise Article 6, so that the Paris Rulebook will be completed at last.

Some progress has been made on a ‘New collective quantified goal on climate finance’, with some pushing for a $US1.3 trillion figure, and (interestingly) a 50% balance between mitigation and adaptation.

Developing countries have continually linked the provision of finance to agreeing to the key elements sought by the UK Presidency, and thus success at COP-26. The African Group and China both made it clear at COP-25 that they were prepared to withhold agreement on the priorities of developed countries until finance was adequately addressed.

In 2019, the African Group had made an unsuccessful request for a new agenda item on a Global Goal on Adaptation, enshrined in the Paris Agreement, and the issue is currently is on the agenda at Glasgow. The issue is important for developing countries because, even if global temperatures were kept to an increase of no more than 1.5°C, the models predict there would still be weather-related natural disasters, and it is investment in infrastructure that limits damage and loss of life in developed countries.

In the resumed High-level Segment, Isatou Touray, the Vice-President of The Gambia, stressed the need for urgent action, and emphasised her country was doing more than its fair share. Other countries should honour their past commitments, she stated. The general tone for developing countries was exemplified by Vice-President of Iran, Ali Salajegheh, who said it was impossible for Iran to meet its commitments if his it was not to receive any international assistance.

Isatou Touray, the Vice-President of The Gambia at the WTO Aid for Trade Global Review 2019 © WTO/Jay Louvion

The demands from developing countries are unsurprising, given that the global north is asking them to forego the very kind of development that provided them with the wealth they enjoy, in order to prevent a warming the predicted extent of which is problematic at best. So they want to be compensated for past damage and paid for future adaptation.

They are well aware that, given the accepted (though contentious) residence time in the atmosphere for CO2 is around 100 years, that the US is responsible for around 25% of the global emissions since 1750 and the EU 22%.

If the approximately one Billion people in the 48 sub-Saharan African countries, responsible for less than one percent of cumulative global carbon emissions, were to triple electricity generation using only natural gas, global emissions would only increase by about one percent. If they used their coal resources in state-of-the-art Advanced Ultrasupercritical coal-fired stations (such as have been developed by GE), the increase would only be slightly higher. (Such stations achieve 49% efficiency and reduce GHG emissions by 30-45% over global fleet average).

Yet the policies proposed by developed countries at Glasgow would prevent this, leading Vijaya Ramachandran, director for energy and development at the Breakthrough Institute, to decry  ‘green colonialism’ in an essay in Foreign Policy magazine. [read here] The demands from developing countries are unsurprising, given that the global north is asking them to forego the very kind of development that provided them with the wealth they enjoy

Ramachandran is particularly scathing of Norway which, she points out, is the most fossil fuel-dependent affluent country in the world. Fully 41 percent of Norway’s exports, 14 percent of GDP, 14 percent of government revenues, and between 6 and 7 percent of employment derive from crude oil and natural gas.

The current energy shortage in Europe has driven natural gas prices to record levels, and Norway (Europe’s second-largest gas supplier after Russia) is making windfall profits and has agreed to increase natural gas exports by 2 billion cubic meters to alleviate the continent’s acute energy shortage.

Yet Norway, along with the rest of Europe, the US and much of the global north is attempting to dictate that the global south should forgo developing  its coal and gas and oil resources, stay poor and stop developing. As she puts is, ‘Let’s call a spade a spade: Norway is advancing the green version of colonialism.’

She doesn’t mince words: ‘Failing to be honest about the energy needs of the developing world is inhumane, uncompassionate, and immoral.’

And: ‘It is effectively telling Africa: We’ll stay rich, keep you from developing, and send some charity your way as long as you keep your emissions down.’ As Ramachandran notes, rather than additional funding for renewable energy, development aid will be repackaged as climate-related transfers, keeping the global south underdeveloped and dependent.

The increase in gas supplies to Europe underscores the folly of the policies Britain and the EU would have the rest of the world adopt. A summer of low winds has exacerbated the energy situation in Britain especially, aided by a problem with the extension cord that allows it to tap into France’s nuclear capacity.

Rather embarrassingly, coal stations have been fired up to meet the demand, but another development has also underscored the UK government’s shift to renewables. The Griffin wind farm, official electricity supplier to COP-26), has been receiving large payments to reduce its generation due in part to a weak grid connection between the wind farm and its consumers.

US President Joe Biden, having cancelled the Keystone XL pipeline and restricted oil and gas exploration and production domestically, has also been pleading with OPEC and Russia to increase production to drive down prices – not something consistent with Net Zero by 2050.

The global north has been systematically depriving the developing world of finance. The Obama Administration ensured the World Bank issued a Directions Statement banning finance for coal-fired power stations in 2014. It then tried the same thing in the OECD in 2015 by restricting Export Credits, but was thwarted by Australia, Japan and Korea in an arena where the ‘mutual agreement’ decision rule (essentially consensus) meant the influence of the USA was less than at the World Bank, where it is an effective hegemon.

The three blocking members managed to limit the scope of the OECD Decision so that some stations in developing countries could be financed, as well as those employing High Efficiency, Low Emissions technology. As a result of these restrictions, Obama essentially opened the field to China, which set about financing plants – the reason Biden’s Special Envoy John Kerry recently sought and extracted from China an undertaking to cease doing so. (Whether they do so, of course, we will have to see).

The OECD Decision was revisited in October, and tightened to allow finance only for coal stations with carbon capture and storage, which is not yet a mature technology. Australia, Japan and Korea allowed this clear example of forum shopping before Glasgow to pass – though it is to be reviewed at the end of 2022.

From the global south, therefore, it is easy to see the Glasgow agenda as ‘green colonialism’. The South Africa Just Energy Transition Partnership, worth $8.5 billion, might look appealing but it is unlikely to foster strong economic development.

The developing world, understandably, will therefore extract the greatest price it can for its agreement to whatever comes out of Glasgow. And given the lack of delivery on past promises, it is likely to regard any new promises somewhat cynically. Moreover, you can probably put your house against any approval of border adjustment tariffs being forthcoming.