Developing Nations Reject Western Carbon Colonialism

By Vijay Jayaraj

Guyana President Irfaan Ali is the latest leader of a developing nation to publicly note the hypocrisy of those pressuring countries like his to forego wealth in pursuit of a “green” agenda.

In a fiery response to a BBC interviewer’s questioning of Guyana’s “right” to emit carbon dioxide in developing $150 billion of oil and gas reserves, President Ali questioned the reporter’s “right to lecture us on climate change. I will lecture you on climate change.”

It is not new, but still dismaying, that many leaders of developed nations assume a posture of moral superiority in leveling criticisms at countries with expanding economies and increasing emissions of carbon dioxide. Ensconced in seats of power from Brussels to Washington, D.C., they point accusing fingers while overlooking centuries of using coal, oil and natural gas to enrich their own countries.

The double standard fails to acknowledge the urgent needs of less advanced countries endeavouring to improve the lot of an impoverished citizenry. Such a nation is Guyana, the third smallest South American country in area.

The Guyanese president told the British journalist that it was hypocritical for rich countries to ask poor ones to reduce emissions. President Ali questioned the moral authority of those that benefited from the hydrocarbon-driven Industrial Revolution, whose most notable technological impetus was the coal-fired steam engine.

“The world, in the last 50 years, has lost 65% of all its biodiversity,” said the president whose country is home to a large rainforest. “We have kept our biodiversity. Are you valuing it. Are you ready to pay for it? When is the developed world going to pay for it, or are you in their pockets?”

President Ali’s comments echo those of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and others who have rejected the climate alarmists’ hostility to fossil fuels in favor of exploiting hydrocarbons to support economic growth.

From the perspective of a developing country, the climate crusaders are particularly annoying when they travel in fuel-guzzling private jets to exclusive locations for United Nations’ climate conferences. The amount of CO2 such a flights release surpasses the yearly emissions of an ordinary individual in a developing country.

Per Capita Emissions and Energy Poverty

Except for nuclear power, fossil fuels are the densest form of energy and so are the most efficient in powering economic growth. Their use — and their CO2 emissions — have a direct relationship with a society’s wealth. Economies with low poverty rates either have high per capita emissions, or have been through a phase when emissions were elevated, because of the central role that fossil fuels played in their development.

Thus, barring a few countries that are blessed with abundant water resources for hydroelectric generation or with nuclear power plants, low per capita emissions equate to poverty. While large developing countries like India produce a significant amount of CO2 emissions in total, the per capita emissions of individual citizens are dwarfed by the carbon footprints of people in the developed West.

For example, global per capita CO2 emissions in 2022 were just over 4 tons while India’s were less than 2 tons. In the U.K. — the BBC’s home — per capita emissions were almost 5 tons.

The African continent has per capita emissions of less than 1 ton; the Central African Republic, 0.05 tons, with 70 percent of its citizens in extreme poverty, making it the fifth poorest country in the world.  Another African country among the five poorest is the Democratic Republic of Congo with just 0.04 tons per capita. According to the World Bank, 4.6% of the Congolese people live on less than $2.15 per day.

Doomsday-promoting politicians cling to their luxuries while millions have no access to clean water, modern appliances and automobiles. The Guyanese president and others are quite right to call out the hypocrisy and moral bankruptcy.

This commentary was first published at Real Clear Energy on April 24, 2024.

Vijay Jayaraj is a Research Associate at the CO2 Coalition, Arlington, Virginia. He holds a master’s degree in environmental sciences from the University of East Anglia, U.K.

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