What is 'green colonialism' and how do we dismantle it?

What is 'green colonialism' and how do we dismantle it?
7 min read
25 October, 2023
Book Club: Despite the Arab world's abundant renewable resources, neo-colonial agendas have held the region back. Dismantling Green Colonialism shows the importance of global climate justice, and expose policies that protect the neoliberal elite.
Edited by Hamza Hamouchene and Katie Sandwell, 'Dismantling Green Colonialism' challenges Euro-centric ideas of climate justice and offers a class-conscious solution [Pluto Books]

Dismantling Green Colonialism: Energy and Climate Justice in the Arab Region is a collection of thirteen essays that explore green colonialism in MENA and its effect on the energy sector, climate change mitigation and the autonomy of the people.

Edited by Hamza Hamouchene and Katie Sandwell, it is the first book to spotlight energy transition driven by justice in the region and to analyse it from a local perspective by avoiding neoliberalism.

Written by multidisciplinary experts from the Arab region to amplify their voices, the book does not homogenise the region but instead recognises the complexities and history of each country as well as its diverse ethnic communities.

It also offers a platform for marginalised people to voice their concerns and the consequences of colonialism.

"New policies and reforms tailored to the peoples needs should be implemented to achieve a just transition. To encourage the participation of the general public, the democratisation of knowledge through documentation and accessibility is necessary"

Many efforts have been made to mitigate the global climate crisis. However, the annual COPs (Conference of Parties) have proven to be futile.

Although some of them were hosted by Arab countries like Morocco, Egypt and Qatar, their underlying purpose is to gather funds for energy projects controlled by the ruling class.

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Their actions have shown that the transition to clean energy is an empty promise and is driven by profit as the extraction of fossil fuels is still ongoing.

The global increase in oil price and its abundance in the region instigated a shift of power to the Gulf states but mainly benefited capitalists from ruling families and private conglomerates.

Dismantling Green Colonial examines the influence of the east-east interdependency (the Gulf supplying oil to East Asia, mainly China) on their desire to continue practising fossil capitalism while also trying to control the shift to renewable energy.

The Gulfs goal is to overshadow its ongoing hydrocarbon production with renewable projects and enter new markets. They regard this transition as technocratic, and an opportunity to jump on the green trend.

Throughout the book, just transition is used as a framework that prioritises the affected people and recognises their importance in leading such changes.

These transitions are studied from multiple lenses like feminism, labour, environment and youth. This framework is a solution to combat the environmental crisis because it recognises the intersectionality of the diverse communities and aims to unify them through alliances against imperialism and classism.

What I liked about this book is that it discusses the environmental and energy crisis from a humanitarian and political perspective rather than focusing on the technical aspect.

It does not shy away from addressing inequalities that the working people are facing. It argues that to mitigate climate change, we must understand the current power dynamics on a regional and global scale to not repeat injustice and avoid greenwashing.

Tunisias current energy sector is mentioned to illustrate an unjust transition. The system prioritises foreign investors over local companies in renewable energy projects and only offers short-term employment opportunities for limited sectors.

In addition, villagers of Borj Salhi have complained about a wind farms negative effect on their environment and biodiversity, and their inability to access the grid that this pant is supplying.

Another strategy that highlights unjust transition is public-private partnerships, commonly used to privatise profits and socialise losses”.

For instance, the Ouarzazate solar plant has put Morocco into deeper debt, stolen land from indigenous communities and diverted water used for agriculture to the cleaning and cooling of panels.

Foreign studies have reported that these lands are arid and unused to justify the exploitation despite their use in farming and grazing by locals.

This has reinforced the colonial gaze”, a notion that has led to the justification of resource exploitation in the region and ownership of our environment as it needs to be fixed”.

The inevitable consequences of climate change caused by extractivism will mostly affect vulnerable communities such as refugees, informal settlements, rural communities and small-scale farmers. The authors push us to be critical of green projects and remind us that not everything green should be blindly accepted.

A fair trade would include the trade of technology to decrease dependence on the global North and payment of the climate change debt. It would also put the local communities at the forefront through alliances by prioritising their needs and sovereignty

Desertec 3.0 is a recent neocolonial strategy proposed by the West to export green hydrogen from North Africa with a promise of development for both sides. However, the reality is far from it. Green hydrogen is a process that requires water that is already scarce in the region.

Additionally, the premise of this project is to meet the environmental goals of Europe and minimise immigration while taking advantage of cheap labour and existing pipelines.

Thus, they are replacing fuel with green hydrogen under the same economic system. As usual, the locals will get the short end of the stick and suffer from land grabbing and water diversion while the authoritarian figures and foreign companies reap all the profits.

A fair trade would include the trade of technology to decrease dependence on the global North and payment of the climate change debt. It would also put the local communities at the forefront through alliances by prioritising their needs and sovereignty.

Several authors have recognised the energy-related problems that occupied lands suffer from. For example, the occupied West Sahara is exploited by Morocco to meet its own energy needs while keeping the indigenous in the dark.

The Moroccan regime is weaponising energy development as a means to maintain its occupation and control the energy supply. The book shares visions of a just transition by engineers in the occupied West Sahara like low-tech hydroponics for self-sustained farming, low-cost passive building design for cooling and durable sustainable cities.

Similarly, the Israeli settlement in the Middle East has caused severe damage. Israel is marketing itself as a green oasis that is far more civilised” and progressive” than the Arab region through greenwashing.

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Not only has it usurped water resources from Jordan and Syria, but it is also portraying itself as benevolent. Israel is selling desalinated water to Jordan that is scorched due to the Israeli exploitation of the Yarmouk River, and in return, being supplied green energy from Jordan through Project Prosperity.

Colonisation has led to high energy poverty in occupied Palestine as they are not given access to energy, or granted permits to install PV panels.

The integration of "environmental practices” in Israel has created an eco-normalisation of oppression. Palestinians are practising eco-sumud, described as resilience and a strong will to maintain an attachment to their lands. A great example was given on rain-fed agriculture, a technique used in the village of Dayr Ballut that offers flexibility and stable crops despite the scarcity of water.

Jordan promotes itself as a green country with 30% of its power generation being renewable. However, natural gas remains the most used energy source causing a fluctuation in electricity cost due to Jordans reliance on its main supplier, Egypt.

Additionally, the potential growth of the renewable sector is hindered by the limited capacity of the power grid. A proposed solution is to decentralise systems for residential and commercial applications to not exceed the grids capacity.

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The liberation of electricity tariffs in Egypt after the revolution and the privatisation of the energy sector shifted the burden of debt payment to consumers, especially low-consumption households.

Liberation from state control and opening up to external finance resulted in unnecessary projects that caused a surplus of electricity. Dismantling Green Colonialism criticises the Egyptian subsidy policies and liberalisation by giving well-rounded arguments that highlight the flaws in such a system that feeds capitalism.

New policies and reforms tailored to the peoples needs should be implemented to achieve a just transition. To encourage the participation of the general public, the democratisation of knowledge through documentation and accessibility is necessary.

The rewriting of policies needs to include the marginalised farmers and working women who are the most vulnerable after the ongoing removal of subsidies and promotion of market-based farming.

Chanel Tohme is a Lebanese engineering student. She is an environmentalist with an interest in providing accessible and green energy to MENA. She dedicates herself to bridging the educational gap in Lebanon and promoting environmental practices