Carbon dioxide emissions in former colonies make the Netherlands one of the world’s biggest climate polluters

Carbon dioxide emissions in former colonies make the Netherlands one of the world’s biggest climate polluters

The Netherlands bears a much greater historical responsibility for global warming than previously estimated. If greenhouse gas emissions in former colonies are also attributable to the Netherlands, the Netherlands is one of the largest CO2 countries2Motives in history.

Carbon Summary, a British think tank specializing in climate change science and policy, He concludes in an article published this Sunday It is also fair to include CO2-Emissions from the Dutch East Indies, Curaçao and Suriname since the period of Dutch rule there. According to Simon Evans, deputy editor of Carbon Brief and author of the article, total emissions in the Netherlands since the Industrial Revolution will almost triple from 1850 onwards.

Evans describes the deforestation that occurred in the Dutch East Indies, Curaçao, and Suriname under Dutch rule as the main cause. Logging – often illegal – is a major cause of greenhouse gas emissions. Currently, global deforestation contributes 15 to 20 percent to climate change.

Evans calculated that since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the Netherlands has produced approximately 12.6 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide between 1850 and 2023.2 I was resurrected. This represents about 0.5% of global emissions. If we add emissions from the Dutch colonies, this percentage rises to 1.4 percent.

The majority of these additional emissions come from the Dutch East Indies, where deforestation between 1850 and Indonesia’s independence resulted in 21.6 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide.2. In addition, 0.5 gigatonnes were emitted as a result of the use of fossil fuels. On a modest scale, Curaçao (total 0.6 Gt) and Suriname (0.1 Gt) also contributed to the Netherlands’ colonial emissions. This brings the total for the Netherlands to 35.5 gigatons.

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Climate negotiations

Historical emissions play an important role in international climate negotiations. For developing countries, it constitutes an argument for placing responsibility for climate policy primarily on the shoulders of industrialized countries. This is especially important for large countries such as China and India. They are now among the biggest climate polluters, but historically their role has been much smaller.

Evans created Carbon Summary in 2021 Extensive analysis of historical emissions and was one of the first to estimate the consequences of deforestation. Evans admits that the margin of uncertainty is large. This applies to figures on the impact of current deforestation on global warming, but it certainly applies to historical data. Researchers rely on these figures on historical sources about land use, farms, and accounting in old government documents. Evans based the new article mainly on Research published in March of this year In the scientific journal Scientific data.

“Large tracts of forest have been cleared for agriculture all over the world, including in Europe and former colonies during periods of rule by European powers,” Evans says when asked. “In many places, the rate of deforestation has continued to increase in the post-colonial period, but the imprint of colonial rule persists in the institutional, social and economic structures it left behind.”

Outside article Dutch historian and Indonesian expert Pieter Boomgaard of the Royal Institute of Language, Land and Ethnology, who died in 2017, shows that the Dutch government viewed rapid deforestation with dismay at the end of the 19th century, especially in Java. Many trees were cut down to make the areas suitable for growing food for the growing population. The indigenous elite often made good money from logging. The Dutch authorities became concerned about the quality of the forests and began to establish a nature conservation program. It is therefore a justifiable question whether the Netherlands can be held responsible for all emissions in its former colonies.

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Timber mill in Suriname, 1955
Willem van de Pol/National Archives

“I’m going to turn it around,” Evans says. “Historical responsibility is morally complex, but colonial powers had a significant impact on the landscape, use of natural resources, and patterns of development that occurred under their rule. You can’t completely ignore that.” He admits that the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. It is difficult to attribute emissions entirely to a colonial power, but it is also unfair to place the blame entirely on the former colony itself, as has happened so far.

Evans describes his analysis as an “accounting exercise.” “It is not a question of who benefited from previous decisions, but rather who was in control. Under colonial rule, the power to make the final decisions rested with the colonial rulers, not with the local elites.

Climate justice

In his article, Evans also converts historical emissions into per capita emissions in 2023. For CO22Emissions that occurred on Dutch territory amount to 718 tons per capita. This places the Netherlands in 22nd place in the world rankings. If emissions from colonies are included, the Netherlands tops the rankings with 2,014 tons per person.

The question is why do it? “Historical emissions are the driving force behind current temperature increases. From a climate equity and justice perspective, it is appropriate to consider responsibility at the individual level.

Disproportionately large impact

Evans doesn’t want to judge the meaning of the data. “Carbon Brief is a neutral journalistic organization,” he says. “We take no position on how our work is used. This analysis offers a new perspective on issues of climate justice and responsibility for current global warming. Colonial powers extracted natural resources from colonized countries to support their economic and political power. The link with historical emissions has not been previously identified.

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The Netherlands, as well as other former colonial powers such as the United Kingdom and Belgium, now has an increasingly smaller climate footprint. Evans believes that their wealth and historical contribution to current global warming gives them a great responsibility not only to quickly reduce their emissions, but also to help less developed countries with their climate policies. “The Netherlands is a relatively small country, but it has a disproportionately large impact on the Earth’s changing climate.”

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