The Climate Change Dictionary: What Is Carbon Colonialism?

The Climate Change Dictionary’ is all about the buzzwords of climate change. Here we explain carbon colonialism.

Climate Change
3 min read

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Anchor and Producer: Sadhika Tiwari

Video Editor: Abhishek Sharma

Camera: Athar Rather


The Climate Change Dictionary’ is all about the buzzwords in the global politics of climate change, and carbon colonialism is making all the waves recently.

However, this explainer begins with a story of George and Govardhan.
George lives in the US and Govardhan lives in India.

For context: George’s per capita emissions are already far higher than they should be. He has a good life, access to luxuries and can also afford a vacation or two every year.

While Govardhan’s emissions are super low. He doesn’t have a regular electricity supply in the house, no air-conditioning, no hot water in the shower or actually no water, no shower and no pipelines.

So now George one day flies down to Govardhan’s small little hut near his farm in a small village and tries to cut a deal.

George says, "buddy, listen, we are both woke, we know all about global warming, we’ve got to save the planet and we must cut down on our carbon emissions as much as we can."

Govardhan nods.

George asks him to assume carbon to be a coin of gold that all humans on the planet have. All humans are allowed ten coins of gold. Each coin allows a certain level of carbon emission.

George has spent tens of these coins in his life so far, before these limits or conversations around it came into being, while Govardhan only maybe six.

George tells Govardhan that now he wants to buy a private jet and since both care about the planet, he has figured a way to save the planet and still buy his private jet.

He tells Govardhan to give him eight of his coins. If Govardhan gives these coins, George will have his private jet. But, Govardhan will also have to say goodbye to that hot shower for life.

While Govardhan’s emissions might be low right now, he needs to retain his supposed quota for carbon emissions or ‘carbon space’ to ensure development in the future.

His per capita emissions should go up because Govradhan deserves that hot-water shower in his life.

Join the dots… George is the greedy, gaslighting developed world and Govardhan is the developing world.

At the recently concluded COP 26 in Glasgow, the UN Climate Change Conference– the spokesperson of LMDC, a group of Like-Minded Developing Countries said that the principle of CBDR or Common But Differentiated Responsibility towards climate change can not change into common and ‘shared’ responsibility.

Differentiating between the capabilities and responsibilities of Govardhan and George is a must because when that is not done, Govardhan gets left behind, trampled on, exploited by a – sure, well-intended, but certainly super selfish and greedy– George.

And this is carbon colonialism and it manifests in different ways like pushing developing countries to announce immediate net-zero targets or lopsided conversations about achieving the 1.5-degree global temperature target while entirely ignoring the development needs of a large part of the world.

Shifting the burden of responsibility towards developing countries simply goes against climate justice.

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