Green Colonialism

A review of Hamza Hamouchene and Katie Sanwell, eds., Dismantling Green Colonialism: Energy and Climate Justice in the Arab Region (London: Pluto, 2023).

Dismantling Green Colonialism: Energy and Climate Justice in the Arab Region, edited by Hamza Hamouchene and Katie Sanwell, is a great book. If it is true, as the editors claim, that “until now, no widely available collection of writings by critical North African and Middle Eastern researchers or activists on a just energy transition has been published in Arabic, English, or French,” this is what academics like to refer to as “groundbreaking.” (I have no reason to doubt the claim, although I wouldn’t know, because I’m no expert in the field.)

“Just transition” is a key term in this book, appearing in almost every chapter. For the editors, “just transition” is characterized by “transformative solutions to the climate crisis that tackle its underlying causes, and that put human rights, ecological regeneration and people’s sovereignty at the centre.” The editors understand the danger of the term being coopted (it pops up in the 2015 Paris Agreement), but they believe it “still provides a space that movements can use to insist on the primacy of justice in all climate solutions.”

Dismantling Green Colonialism provides an important overview of the central issues connected to a just transition in the Arab world, but it goes beyond that. There are interesting reflections on fossil capitalism, insightful analyses of the role of the Gulf States, strong scholarly support for social movements, an intriguing outline of a “new ‘east–east’ axis of world oil” (Adam Hanieh), and even a discussion of “climate reparations.”

What I’d like to highlight, however, is the usage of the term “green colonialism.” It appears that the term is now used by people in different geographical (and geopolitical) contexts, independently from one another, but with a very similar meaning.

Consider the following description of the Sahara under the header of “Green Colonialism” in Hamza Hamouchene’s chapter “The Energy Transition in North Africa: Neocolonialism Again!”:

“The Sahara is usually described as a vast empty land that is sparsely populated, and is representing an Eldorado of renewable energy, thus constituting a golden opportunity to provide Europe with energy so it can continue its extravagant consumerist lifestyle and excessive energy consumption. However, this deceptive narrative overlooks questions of ownership and sovereignty and masks ongoing global relations of hegemony and domination that facilitate the plunder of resources, the privatization of commons and the dispossession of communities, thus consolidating undemocratic and exclusionary ways of governing the energy transition.”

Compare this to the following statement by Sara-Elvira Kuhmunen, chairwoman of the Sámi Youth Federation (Sáminourra) in Sweden:

“We are affected by green colonialism, where the Swedish state and companies with short-sighted profit interests and a lack of respect for human rights motivate intrusion and exploitation by referring to a ‘green transition.’ Sápmi is seen as a gigantic raw material thrift shop, an industrial estate where the powerful can fool around as they please.”

Another example? How about this comment by the Sámi Parliament of Sweden?

“Our land is constantly threatened. Now climate change is used as an argument to extend exploitation through mining, wind parks, battery factories, clear cuts, industrialization, railways, and so on. Swedish politicians, industrialists, and lobby organizations call for and facilitate so-called ‘green’ projects. … There is no talk about circular economy, reduced energy use, recycling, sustainability, and environmental risks. … We do not accept green colonialism, not here or anywhere else.”

The parallels are striking. And if we find the same pattern in North Africa and Sápmi, we can safely assume that we’ll find it in many places.

There are resistance movements everywhere (for Sápmi, find a short overview here). Ideally, they’ll connect in the future. In order to do that, we need to know about them. Dismantling Green Colonialism is making an important contribution.

Gabriel Kuhn

(December 31, 2023)