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Decarbonisation and Green Colonialism

South-South Manifesto for an Ecosocial Energy Transition

Credit: Pacto Ecosocial e Intercultural del Sur.

November 18, 2023

More than two years after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic – and now alongside the catastrophic consequences of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – a “new normal” has emerged. This new global status quo reflects a worsening of various crises: social, economic, political, ecological, bio-medical, and geopolitical.

Environmental collapse approaches. Everyday life has become ever more militarized. Access to good food, clean water, and affordable healthcare has become even more restricted. More governments have turned autocratic. The wealthy have become wealthier, the powerful more powerful, and unregulated technology has only accelerated these trends.

The engines of this unjust status quo – capitalism, patriarchy, colonialism, and various fundamentalisms – are worsening a bad situation. Therefore, we must urgently debate and implement new visions of ecosocial transition and transformation that are gender-just, regenerative, and popular.

Our diagnosis

In this Manifesto of Peoples of the South: For an Ecosocial Energy Transition, we hold that the problems of the Global South are different from those of the Global North and rising powers such as China. Not only does an imbalance of power between these two realms persist because of an enduring colonial legacy, but it has deepened because of a neocolonial energy model. In the context of climate change, ever-rising energy needs, and biodiversity loss, the capitalist centres have stepped up the pressure to extract natural wealth and rely on cheap labour from the countries on the periphery. Not only is the well-known extractive paradigm still in place, but the North’s ecological debt to the South is rising.

What’s new are the “clean energy transitions” of the Global North that have put even more pressure on the Global South to yield cobalt and lithium to produce high-tech batteries, balsa wood for wind turbines, land for large solar arrays, and new infrastructure for hydrogen megaprojects. This decarbonization of the rich, which is market-based and export-oriented, depends on a new phase of environmental despoliation of the Global South, which affects the lives of millions of women, men, and children, not to mention non-human life. In this way, the Global South has once again become a zone of sacrifice, a basket of purportedly inexhaustible resources for the countries of the Global North.

A priority for the Global North has been to secure global supply chains, especially of critical raw materials, and prevent certain countries, like China, from monopolizing access. The G7 trade ministers, for instance, recently championed a responsible, sustainable, and transparent supply chain for critical minerals via international cooperation‚ policy, and finance, including the facilitation of trade in environmental goods and services through the World Trade Organization. The Global North has pushed for more trade and investment agreements with the Global South to satisfy its need for resources, particularly those integral to “clean energy transitions.” These agreements, designed to reduce barriers to trade and investment, protect and enhance corporate power and rights by potentially subjecting states to legal suits according to investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanisms. The Global North uses these agreements to control the “clean energy transition” and create a new colonialism.

Meanwhile, the South’s governments have fallen into a debt trap, borrowing money to build up industries and large-scale agriculture to supply the North. To repay these debts, governments have felt compelled to extract more resources, creating a vicious circle of inequality. Today, the imperative to move beyond fossil fuels without significantly reducing consumption in the North has only increased pressure to exploit these natural resources. Moreover, as it moves ahead with its energy transitions, the North has paid only lip service to its responsibility to address its historical and rising ecological debt to the South.

Minor changes in the energy matrix are not enough. The entire energy system must be transformed from production and distribution to consumption and waste. Substituting electric vehicles for internal-combustion cars is insufficient, for the whole transportation model needs to change, with a reduction in energy consumption and the promotion of sustainable options. Relations must become more equitable not only between the centre and periphery countries but also within countries, between elites and the public. Corrupt elites in the Global South have also collaborated in this unjust system by profiting from extraction, repressing human rights and environmental defence, and perpetuating economic inequality. Rather than being solely technological, the solutions to these interlocking crises are, above all, political.

A just transition for the Global South

As activists, intellectuals, and organizations from different countries of the Global South, we call on change agents from all parts of the world to commit to a radical, democratic, gender-just, regenerative, and grassroots ecosocial transition that transforms both the energy sector and the industrial and agricultural spheres that depend on large-scale energy inputs. According to the different movements for climate justice, “transition is inevitable, but justice is not.”

We still have time to start a just and democratic transition. We can transition away from the neoliberal economic system in a direction that sustains life; combines social justice with environmental justice; brings together egalitarian and democratic values with a resilient, holistic social policy; and restores an ecological balance necessary for a healthy planet. But to do so, we need more political imagination and more utopian visions of another society that is socially just and respects our common house.

The energy transition should be part of a comprehensive vision that addresses radical inequality in the distribution of energy resources and advances energy democracy. It should de-emphasize large-scale institutions – corporate agriculture, huge energy companies – and market-based solutions. Instead, it must strengthen the resilience of civil society and social organizations.

Our statements

Therefore, we make the following eight points:

  1. We warn that an energy transition led by corporate megaprojects from the Global North and accepted by numerous governments in the Global South entails the enlargement of the zones of sacrifice throughout the Global South, and the persistence of the colonial legacy, patriarchy, and the debt trap. Energy is an elemental and inalienable human right, and energy democracy should be our goal.
  2. We call on the peoples of the Global South to reject false solutions that come with new forms of energy colonialism, now in the name of a “green transition.” We make a specific call to continue political coordination among the peoples of the South while also pursuing strategic alliances with critical sectors in the North.
  3. To mitigate the havoc of the climate crisis and advance a just and popular ecosocial transition, we demand repayment of the ecological debt. In the face of the disproportionate Global North’s responsibility for the climate crisis and environmental collapse, this means effectively implementing a compensation system for the Global South. This system should include a considerable transfer of funds and appropriate technology and consider sovereign debt cancellation for the countries of the Global South. We support reparations for loss and damage experienced by Indigenous peoples, vulnerable groups and local communities due to mining, large-scale dams, and dirty energy projects.
  4. We reject the expansion of the hydrocarbon border in our countries – through fracking and offshore projects – and repudiate the hypocritical discourse of the European Union, which recently declared natural gas and nuclear energy to be “clean energies.” As already proposed in the Yasuni Initiative in Ecuador in 2007 and today supported by many social sectors and organizations, we endorse leaving fossil fuels underground and generating the social and labour conditions necessary to abandon extractivism and move toward a post-fossil-fuel future.
  5. We similarly reject “green colonialism” in the form of land grabs for solar and wind farms, the indiscriminate mining of critical minerals, and the promotion of technological “fixes” like blue, green, and grey hydrogen. Enclosure, exclusion, violence, encroachment, and entrenchment have characterized past and current North–South energy relations and are not acceptable in an era of ecosocial transition.
  6. We demand genuine protection of defenders of the environment and human rights, particularly Indigenous peoples and women, who are at the forefront of resisting extractivism.
  7. Our fundamental objectives should include elimination of energy poverty in the countries of the Global South – and parts of the Global North – through alternative, decentralized, equitably distributed renewable energy projects owned and operated by communities.
  8. We denounce international trade agreements that penalize countries that want to curb fossil fuel extraction. We must bring an end to trade and investment agreements controlled by multinational corporations that ultimately promote more extraction and reinforce neocolonialism.

Our ecosocial alternative is based on countless struggles, strategies, proposals, and community-based initiatives. Our Manifesto connects with Indigenous peoples’ lived experiences, critical perspectives, and other local communities, women, and youth throughout the Global South. It is inspired by the work on the rights of nature, buen vivir, vivir sabroso, sumac kawsay, ubuntu, swaraj, the commons, the care economy, agroecology, food sovereignty, post-extractivism, the pluriverse, autonomy, and energy sovereignty. Above all, we call for a radical, democratic, popular, gender-just, regenerative, and comprehensive ecosocial transition.

Following in the footsteps of the Ecosocial and Intercultural Pact of the South, this Manifesto proposes a dynamic platform that invites you to join our shared struggle for transformation by helping to create collective visions and collective solutions.

This Manifesto of Peoples of the South is a collective piece written by activists, intellectuals, and organizations from different places in the Global South and is the result of a year of dialogue between different voices from Latin America, Africa, and Asia.

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