While the climate crisis in Germany is mainly felt through temperature fluctuations, the consequences in countries of the Global South are much more grave.
Climate consequences in the Global South
Desertification in the Sahel region intensifies. This leads to droughts as well as to small island states, such as the Maldives, sinking continuously because of rising sea levels. In East Africa, for example in Sudan, Eritrea or Somalia, droughts are a major problem. Since most people live from agriculture, droughts regularly lead to famine.
People in Asian countries are increasingly suffering from greater water scarcity due to the melting of the Himalayas. Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia will be the worst affected by climate-related weather changes, according to Germanwatch’s assessment.
Already, the increase in storms and typhoons claims thousands of lives every year. Climate consequences have a direct impact on the lives and livelihoods of people around the world. However, these impacts do not affect all people equally; there is a clear south-north divide. While we in Germany are largely only dealing with climatic changes, climate consequences are already claiming lives in the global South.
The problem: Nations that are most affected by the consequences of climate change have historically contributed the least to the climate crisis. Moreover, they are predominantly poor countries, and therefore less able to adapt to the climate crisis.
The main responsible parties
Industrialisation marked the beginning of mass emission of greenhouse gases. The limitations previously imposed by the sun, biomass, wind, and water as the sole energy sources were suddenly removed by the use of fossil fuels. Since the Great Acceleration at the beginning of the 20th century resource consumption has risen sharply. Just from 1970 to today, energy consumption has quadrupled.
The main responsible parties: almost exclusively Europe and the USA. Europe’s climate debt, i.e., its contribution to the accumulation of carbon dioxide equivalents (CO₂), is estimated at 110 gigatonnes, or 30 per cent of the total accumulation. This is more than twice the contribution to the total accumulation of Africa or South America.
If we want to avoid warming the atmosphere by more than 2 °C, we must not emit more than around 2,200 billion tonnes of CO₂ between 1800 and 2050. As things stand, about 1,200 billion tonnes of CO₂ have already been emitted. The lion’s share of around 860 billion tonnes of CO₂ was emitted by industrialised countries by 2008. It is twice as much as they would actually be entitled to according to historically fair distribution. Even if the Western countries could reduce their emissions to zero with immediate effect, they would no longer be able to account for the historical climate debt. This has serious consequences for the ecosystem and for people’s livelihoods.
The increase in the Earth’s mean temperature affects all areas of life, such as ecology, agronomy, economy, health and socio-culture. Since all sectors are inextricably linked, changes in one sector can lead to a so-called „domino effect“. For example, crop failures or food insecurity can lead to mass migration movements and epidemics. Therefore, if one takes a look at historical emissions since the beginning of industrialisation, a clear climate debt can be identified.
A question of money, sex, socio-economical status and race
The distribution of climate consequences is not just divided in North and South, but also in poor and rich. Looking at the total sum of all emissions, it turns out that the top 10 per cent are responsible for 45 per cent of all emissions. The bottom 50 per cent, however, are responsible for only 13 per cent of global emissions.
The average per capita emissions of the poorest countries in the world, such as Niger, Somalia or the Central African Republic, are 140 times smaller than the average per capita emissions in Germany. In addition, the German government is better suited to adapt to the climate crisis, for example by investing in new technologies. After all, those who have sufficient financial resources can better protect themselves against the effects of climate change. This applies not only to governments, but also to different population groups within society.
When Hurricane Katarina hit the state of New Orleans in autumn 2015, poorer neighbourhoods where predominantly African-Americans live were especially affected. The neighbourhoods were very poorly equipped against the floods. In addition, many residents did not own a car, which made it difficult for them to get to safety.
Not only socio-economic background or ethnicity influence how well one can adapt to climatic changes, but also gender. Women die much more frequently in natural disasters than men due to gender-specific behavioural norms and unequal distribution of resources. For example, they are less likely to be able to swim or to have access to transport. Categories such as gender, socio-economic status, race, age and disability have a major impact on adaptation. Already existing social inequalities are increasingly reinforced by the climate crisis.
The presumed other
German climate discourse mostly blocks out capitalist and colonialst structures. Yet Postcolonial approaches are important, since they make visible processes and structures that have their origin in European colonialisation under which colonialised countries suffer to this day.
One of these concepts is Othering, which was developed by Eward Said. This concept can be inherently embedded in postcolonial contexts. Nature is conceptualised as the radically „other“ for this purpose. It is excluded from the human sphere and denied any agency. This devaluation of humanity can be understood as the basis and legitimisation of the almost limitless possession, exploitation and plundering of nature since colonial times. By presenting nature only as a setting for human activity and as a resource to be exploited, while at the same time characterising it as wild, untouched and uncultivated, Europe is elevated to a rationally thinking and acting conqueror whose destiny is to dominate or tame nature.
Nature outside of Europa is considered to be wild, exotic, untouched and desolate. The people living there are looked at as uncivilised, wild, primitive and bestial. This discourse served and still serves to justify exploitation, slavery and even the genocide of indigenous communities. Exploitation during colonialism made today’s industrial capitalism possible. The exploitation of natural resources was used to drive technological progress in Western industrialised countries and to expand prosperity. This exploitation continues to this day.
The majority of goods such as cloths or electronic devices that we purchase in the North are produced in the Global South. Precisely here, the working conditions are very bad for the people and the environment. We benefit from the low prices while people’s living conditions deteriorate.
Fighting climate crisis
When it comes to combating climate crisis, many different aspects must be taken into account: from historical climate debt to colonial times to the socio-economic background of individuals. For those who have sufficient access to income, property, work, mobility, technologies, credit and political decision-making processes can also better protect themselves against the impacts of climate change.
When talking about climate change, we must therefore also always automatically talk about climate justice if we want to keep the gap between the Global North and the Global South from widening. Europe, as well as other industrialised countries, has more responsibility. And not only because they are among the main causes of the climate crisis, but also because they have the necessary wealth to effectively counteract it.
Climate (in)justice – although climate change is a global phenomenon, the effects vary greatly in different regions.
This article was also published in German
- marcin-jozwiak-YGPCYETKFw8-unsplash: Marcin Jozwiak on Unsplash