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Why the West’s sanctions directly contradicts its Own climate goals

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Picture: Siyabulela Duda/GCIS – South African President President Cyril Ramaphosa with the President of Zimbabwe Emmerson Mnangagwa. SA has asked for the elimination of trade barriers and a conducive investment climate for South African companies investing in Zimbabwe.

By Ekaterina Blinova

Western sanctions appear to have hindered the growth of vulnerable developing economies and upended their progress in tackling climate change. One glaring example is Zimbabwe, whose economy has been crippled by severe restrictions, as Emmerson Mnangagwa, president of Zimbabwe, outlined at the COP27.

“The US sanctions against Zimbabwe have been piled on since 2001, following a government decision to repossess land from minority white farmers for redistribution to landless indigenous Zimbabweans,” Dr. Mamdouh G. Salameh, an international oil economist and global energy expert, told Sputnik. “The sanction-induced economic mire has inflicted a myriad of real challenges on Zimbabweans, especially amid an unprecedented global pandemic.”

“Though the Zimbabwean government said the land reform would promote democracy and the economy, Western countries launched repeated sanctions with little regard for the average person’s suffering,” the economist continued.

Picture: EPA/AARON UFUMELI – Women carry maize meal during a food distribution in Mwenezi, Zimbabwe. The World Food Programme (WFP), the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the government of Zimbabwe distributed food in a bid to reduce the impact of climate-related disasters.

The issue of Western restrictions slapped on Zimbabweans was raised by the nation’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa at the ongoing 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27) in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. Mnangagwa emphasized that the West’s “illegal economic sanctions” imposed on Zimbabwe upends its climate goals and demanded that the “unwarranted and punitive” measures be lifted.

“In 2021, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Unilateral Coercive Measures Alena Douhan said in a report she compiled after visiting Zimbabwe that Western sanctions were undermining the human rights of ordinary Zimbabweans because the government had been forced to cut funding,” Salameh noted. “She said that sanctions have prevented the Zimbabwean government from using resources to develop and maintain essential infrastructure thereby affecting the country’s whole population especially those in extreme poverty.”

Zimbabwe “lost well over $42 billion in revenue over the past 19 years because of the sanctions” with a negative influence on most sectors of its economy and the investment climate, according to a 2020 report by the Southern African Development Community (SADC). Meanwhile, 63% of Zimbabwe’s 15.6 million population live below the poverty line and 24% of the country’s children between six months and five years face malnutrition.

“The sanctions against Zimbabwe aren’t justified in any shape or form because they aim to protect and perpetuate the relics of Western imperialism in Africa,” argued Salameh.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has asked for the elimination of trade barriers and a conducive investment climate for South African companies investing in Zimbabwe. Photo: Siyabulela Duda/GCIS

Sanctions Have Become West’s Weapon of Choice

However, Zimbabwe is just one among dozens of countries subjected to a unilateral sanctions regime by the US and its NATO allies and partners. Sanctions have become nothing short of a tool used by the West to achieve its geopolitical objectives, punish countries that don’t toe the US foreign policy line, and contain potential competitors, according to Salameh.

“Since 1998 the United States has imposed economic sanctions on more than 20 countries under one pretext or another,” the oil economist explained. “Prominent among these sanctioned countries are Russia, Iran, Venezuela, Syria, Cuba, and North Korea. One common factor among all these sanctioned countries is that they have fallen foul of the United States either by objecting to its foreign policy or following policies the US considers counter to its national interests. Zimbabwe is no exception.”

After the collapse of the USSR, the US adopted a triumphalist approach and unleashed a unipolar world order on the international community. Nonetheless, some countries like Russia, Venezuela, and Iran have managed successfully to undermine US sanctions and minimize their adverse impact on their economies; others, like Zimbabwe are still suffering from restrictions, according to the energy expert.

Meanwhile, the sanctions spree has by no means been helpful for the international community’s joint interests such as combating terrorism, global crime, pandemics, and climate change. While the latter issue has become the focus of the Global North over the past few years, the negative impact of Western unilateral restrictions on the climate has been routinely overlooked by the architects of sanctions.

Picture: Reuters – Climate change and frequent droughts indicate small – scale farmers in Zimbabwe will have to switch from maize to drought-tolerant small grain farming.

Sanctions Increase Pollution, Affect Climate

Non-profit think tanks, academia and institutions have recently raised alarm over sanctions’ longstanding ramifications on the environment. In particular, the School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) at Columbia University argued that Western restrictions imposed on Iran, Russia, and Venezuela significantly contribute to increased pollution, declining water resources, deforestation and desertification, as well as irreversible biodiversity loss in the given nations.

Many countries subjected to harsh sanctions have been forced to increase their dependence on fossil fuels and even resort to unsustainable agricultural practices, in order to maintain their citizens’ wellbeing and shield their populations from existential crisis, according to the institution.

“For countries whose economies and their livelihood are badly suffering from harsh US sanctions, the last thing on their minds is to contribute to the global efforts to control climate change and help reduce harmful emissions,” observed Salameh. “For countries like Zimbabwe and many others under US sanctions their first priority is to use whatever resources they have to feed their people and improve their standard of living rather than fighting climate change thus inadvertently affecting the global efforts to reduce global emissions.”

In addition to that, the aforementioned sanctions policies sometimes backfire on their initiators. In May 2022, the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), a UK-based think tank, drew attention to the fact that sanctions on Russia have collectively induced a steady rise in crude oil prices, disrupted global grain and fertilizer markets, led to environmental damage, and reactive forced-hand policies to divest from Russian energy sources. The report highlighted that unforeseen effects of Western policies imposed continuous stress on global markets, strained natural resources, and increased carbon emissions in direct contradiction of the Paris Climate Accord goals of 2015.

Russia used to provide roughly 40% of all imported gas to the EU. However, in the wake of the US-led Russia energy embargo, Europe has to slash coal, gas and oil deliveries from Russia and eventually re-activated many coal-fired power plants. Earlier this year, prices for thermal coal, used to generate electricity, mounted to record levels. According to the press, Europeans are buying coal from remote places such as Tanzania, Botswana, and even Madagascar.

For his part, US President Joe Biden has called on domestic producers to step up extraction of oil in order to curb soaring gasoline prices thus contradicting his own “green” policies. The White House has also repeatedly released crude from the nation’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve, prompting criticism from progressives and environmental activists. It also appears that Washington has no scruples about capitalizing on the EU energy crunch by selling expensive liquefied natural gas (LNG) to its European allies.

“The United States will always look after its own interests irrespective of any adverse impact on others, even its own allies. This is the ugly face of Western capitalism,” said Salameh. “A case in point is French President Emmanuel Macron recently lashing out against the United States’ double standards because of the difference between the price at which LNG produced in the U.S. sells in Europe and the price at which natural gas sells within the US Fifteen other EU leaders voiced their criticism of US exploitation of its own allies.”

West Uses Sanctions and Climate Agenda to Curb Africa’s Rise

The policy of unilateral economic sanctions pursued by the West has become a catalyst for environmental degradation. Some experts believe that the US should adopt a so-called “environmentally conscious foreign policy” and consider the climate implications of the sanctions they impose.

However, Salameh noted that the US and the collective West in general have on multiple occasions demonstrated that it is not interested in maintaining such an approach, which throws into question the sincerity of the Western climate agenda in the first place.

“Experts who believe that the United States, which is the cradle of capitalism, will ever transform itself to a global benevolent utopia, must be deluding themselves or daydreaming,” the oil economist remarked.

Another illustrative example of the West’s hypocrisy is its unwillingness to assist African states’ transition to green fuels, according to Salameh. Sudanese-British billionaire Mo Ibrahim argued prior to COP27 that African nations could use their rich gas deposits as a “transition fuel” and insisted on the necessity to fund the creation of gas and electricity infrastructure on the continent. However, US climate czar John Kerry made it clear that Washington opposes any investment in long-term gas projects in Africa since they contradict the net-zero targets.

“Despite the continent’s chronic energy poverty, US Presidential Envoy to the Environment John Kerry recently called on African countries not to invest in developing their considerable oil and gas resources, because these assets will become stranded by 2030,” said the energy expert. “His advice is that they should rather focus on reducing emissions in a continent which only contributed in 2021 3.8% to global emissions, the least in the world.”

As a result, African states would be forced to continue to use dirty fuels to cook food or warm themselves, while Western corporations would continue to extract crude and gas on the continent for the needs of the Global North, according to the oil economist. Needless to say, against this backdrop, Western restrictions further paralyze the development of African nations, making it almost impossible for them to become self-sufficient, let alone reach any climate goals in the future.

West Doesn’t Want to ‘Compensate’ for Polluting Environment

“Naturally countries whose economies are suffering from sanctions would neither have the resources to allocate to climate change nor the interest either,” Salameh said. “Instead, they should argue that rich countries like the United States and the EU countries who are responsible for the bulk of global harmful emissions shouldn’t only foot the bill for measures to control climate change but also make reparations to countries under Western sanctions and other poor countries of the world for the poverty Western green policies have inflicted on them.”

The G77, a coalition of 134 developing countries, intended to promote its members’ collective economic interests, called on the most-polluting industrialized nations to pay “loss and damage” compensation to vulnerable countries that did not emit any considerable amount of carbon dioxide, but which still suffer from climate change-related disasters. The list of industrialized nations obliged to provide climate finance under the UN climate convention comprises 24 economies (including the G7), collectively called “Annex II” countries.

Previously, developed states have fallen short on delivering on their promise to provide poor states with $100 billion by 2020. At COP27, several rich European countries offered some limited help, but warned against any attempts to hold them “liable” for polluting the environment and largely avoided the term “compensation,” preferring the more ambiguous “aid.”

Meanwhile, according to World Resources Institute estimates, over four billion lives have been impacted and $2.9 trillion lost to disasters, most of which are attributable to extreme weather events, since 2000. For its part, the World Economic Forum (WEF) forecast that the economic cost of loss and damage in developing countries will reach a whopping $1-1.8 trillion by 2050.

Blinova is a freelance journalist and has been a Sputnik contributor since 2014. She has a specialist’s degree in history and specialises in US, European, Middle Eastern and Asian politics, international relations, sociology and high tech.

This article was first published in Sputnik