Decolonising the Green New Deal

To be truly effective, the Green New Deal must go beyond patterns of neocolonialism and exploitation of other countries, beyond marginalisation and towards true social and environmental justice.

The Green New Deal has been upheld by President-elect Joe Biden as ‘a crucial framework for meeting the climate challenges we face’. Yet he has already made his climate pledges more moderate than what some climate campaigners and those in his own party would like to see, while others think even the radical vision of campaigners like Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez doesn’t go far enough.

As the Green New Deal receives renewed attention worldwide under Biden’s win, it is important that what transpires from the policy goes beyond the surface level promises of jobs, renewable energy and lower emissions.

It offers an opportunity for America to reassess the way it views nature, land rights, indigenous groups and its relationships with other countries.

Yet concern lies in the fact that the Green New Deal’s focus on economic growth while reducing emissions centres itself on the West’s continued preoccupation with progress and development, focussed on linear economic growth at all costs. It does not necessarily address the possibility of degrowth or even agrowth, or the change in consumption culture necessary for the GND to achieve even half of what it aims to.

The Green New Deal’s targets could be achieved through outsourcing exploitation of natural resources (read: oil) and carbon intensive jobs to other (read: poorer) countries, in order to meet the USA’s targets.

A state can reach the goals of a Green New Deal through simply moving their environmental exploitation elsewhere, often played out in neocolonial patterns. While the UK and much of Western Europe have lowered emissions in recent years, this has been at the expense of poorer countries which we have exported our manufacturing to. Is it any wonder China’s emissions are so high when we made them the ‘workshop of the world’?

Now China is repeating those patterns; looking to Africa for the natural resources it needs to fulfil that namesake.

Such ecologically unequal exchange not only harms the planet in environmental terms, it also actively harms the affected communities and people socially and economically.

There needs to be acknowledgement that the UK and USA’s claims to be ‘leading’ the fight against climate change are ironic at best, and harmful at worst, when they have actively ignored and sabotaged the fight against climate change from Small Island Developing States, indigenous groups and the Global South more widely for decades.

Those voices need to be amplified, and allowed to take a lead in global climate negotiations – we need to listen to their demands on 1.5 degree targets not being enough, for example. We need to transfer wealth to allow poorer countries to achieve what they already have the knowledge, skills and political will to, yet we have held them back for years from.

In the USA’s case in particular, they need to listen to indigenous communities; granting land claims, taking into account different livelihoods and giving reparations for harm already done.

Low carbon jobs are not only those in renewable energy or flood management – they are those in mental health services, nursing and teaching. They are those which provide the social, health and educational groundwork on which to build a educated, productive population.

The Green New Deal must learn from Roosevelt’s New Deal in its approach. Source: AP.

The Green New Deal must learn from its namesake – Franklin D Roosevelt’s New Deal of the 1930s – in its approach to justice. Aspects of that New Deal actively harmed Black people in particular – upholding and hardening segregation policies and leaving a disproportionate number of Black people out of work. The Green New Deal’s green jobs promises must work parallel to tougher anti-discrimination laws, fairer wages with a universal basic income and a just welfare system.

While governments worldwide, including here in the UK, are likely looking to the USA to make a success of the Green New Deal, a policy touted in election campaigning and by politicians gaining fame across the pond (looking at you, AOC); it is vital that the model the USA sets out is genuinely revolutionary.

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