Oxford's oldest student newspaper

Independent since 1920

Oxford Union believes international climate policy is neo-imperalist

On Thursday night, the Oxford Union voted in favour of the motion ‘This House believes international climate policy is neo-imperialist.’ The final count had 85 members voting for the motion and 40 members voting against. 

The debating chamber was affected by power cuts before the debate, leading to the cancellation of the emergency debate. The Union also faced power outages at the end of Hilary, during which the society’s buildings were out of action for several days. Contingency plans to move the debate to the Goodman Library were also considered. 

Professor Noel Healy, a contributing author for the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and professor at Salem State University, spoke for the proposition. Speaking alongside Healy were Secretary’s Committee members, Ammar Ansari and Zarin Fariha.

Opposing the motion were the Union’s operations officer, Makkunda Sharma, standing committee member, Moosa Harraj, and New College PPE student, Prajwal Pandey. 

When introducing the opposition speakers, Ansari joked that, given Pandey’s position as Co-Chair of the Essex Climate Action Commission, he would be better suited for the proposition.

Ansari opened the case for the proposition by arguing that countries with a “history of colonialism [with] influence on global international bodies” were responsible for developing unjust climate policies which widen global inequalities.

Although some countries have paid climate reparations, he acknowledged, these “reparations must go further.” He ended by drawing attention to the impact of the war in the Gaza strip — how chemical weapons, for example, have contaminated Gazan soil. He said the lack of support provided by the West to call for a ceasefire as an example of neo-imperialist policy. 

Harraj opened the case for the opposition by emphasising the seriousness of current climate circumstances and the importance of all nations uniting against this issue. He cited the Paris Climate Change agreement as a recent success. 

He asserted that “developing nations are given some of the strongest voices” in creating climate policy and that that international climate policy provides a path of sustainable growth for developing nations. He cited the Chinese solar industry as a recent example. International agreements, he said, are necessary as well as a “beacon of unity and collective action.”

Fariha then continued the case for the proposition by arguing that powerful nations “weaponise” climate policy to create an “illusion of great success.” She remarked that resources pledged by Western nations are insufficient. Fariha pointed out the lack of progress provided by international climate policies and the particular impact of climate change on developing countries, citing flooding in Bangladesh and droughts in Somalia as examples. 

Fariha further stated that the mechanisms by which climate policies are formed are by nature imperialistic and display power imbalances. She also drew attention to a “contradiction” of Western nations who promote themselves as “pioneers of climate security” yet oppose calls for a ceasefire in Gaza, after exploring the damaging impact wars have on the climate.

Next, Pandey argued that international climate policy’s unique ability to provide financial support to developing nations, including helping them transition to green energy sources, makes mitigating climate change possible. 

He also drew attention to the limited timeframe to act against climate change, calling the issue “one of our very existence.” He affirmed that, through helping to develop international climate policies, ‘the West’ is holding up its responsibility and urging other nations to fight “an issue which ultimately affects them most.” 

To conclude his speech, Pandey noted that the motion frames ‘the West’ as holding the solutions to climate change and urged the house to consider international climate policy as a two-way process.

Concluding the case for the Proposition, Professor Healy contextualised the debate, pointing to the high historic emissions of nations in the so-called Global North. He said that states in the Global North had used international climate policy to repackage “the power nations of old” — referring to former colonial nations.

Examples of this, he suggested, include non-committal climate policy and missed pledges. He cited the ability of large multinational corporations to influence climate policy as another example, including the $1.4 trillion recently poured into fossil fuel subsidies by the G20 nations. 

Healy also called into question the sincerity of the Global North in its support for developing nations. He pointed out that monetary pledges are equal to just 0.2% of total loss and damages caused by climate change. 

He argued that the ‘polluter pays’ principle is unfair on the Global South, since countries in the Global North often outsource energy-intensive industrial processes to the Global South as a means of reducing their carbon emissions. 

Speaking last in the debate, Sharma accused the proposition of “flip-flopping” in their arguments. He called upon his personal experience living in New Delhi, pausing his speech to put on a mask inside the chamber, to illustrate the high levels of pollution there. 

He continued his speech by noting that climate targets are set voluntarily, and questioned how voluntary action could be a form of neo-imperialism. He said that climate policy is harshest on countries such as the United States and highlighted the impact that climate policy has on developed countries, who financially support the developing world. Finally, he emphasised a distinction between climate policy and social justice, arguing that climate policy alone has made real impact on slowing the rate of global warming. 

Check out our other content

Most Popular Articles