In the last decade, we have seen the rise of just transition policies in the Global North, highlighting the importance of justice considerations in the process of addressing climate change. Recently however, academics have begun to discuss the development of Green Sacrifice Zones where underprivileged communities, both in the Global South and Global North, are under-serviced and overburdened in the name of green policies. The lack of power which marginalised communities have compared to large multinational companies and strong capitalist power means that they have been neglected and, in turn, are bearing the brunt of major environmental concerns, green infrastructures, and the consequences of climate change.
As aforementioned, countries in the Global North have begun to pursue a series of green and just transition policies mainly focusing on phasing out fossil fuels, through the production of more electric vehicles, for example. These policies, however, would involve the increased demand for materials such as cobalt, which is mainly extracted from African countries, in particular the Democratic Republic of Congo (UNEP, 2022). Many countries in the Global South are rich in resources which are an essential component for a green transition. Consequently, these zones are also suffering excessive mining and are heavily polluted as a result. The Global North has instituted a system of extraction, which can be linked back to colonialism, which imposes large social and environmental costs on the Global South. For centuries, the Global South has been used a base for economic advancement of the Global North, which continues today. However, this time it is in the name of a green transition that lands in the Global South are being exploited, rather than meeting the needs of the underprivileged. Climate justice activists go as far as to call this “environmental racism”, and they demand a fair and just distribution of burdens which, in its essence, a just transition would require (Skorstad, 2023).
The origin of the term Green Sacrifice Zones can be found in the US, specifically the Department of Energy, where they introduced the idea that there were “places written off for environmental destruction in the name of a higher purpose, such as national interests” (Skorstad, 2023). On the other hand, the term “sacrifice” on its own is controversial. It implies aiming for a better outcome or common good and poses the idea of sacrificing one zone for another. Consequently, a series of concerns arise when considering the concept of Green Sacrifice Zones; where do you commonly find these zones, who is affected and harmed in these, and who is choosing to “sacrifice” these zones? In particular, why should one zone bear more environmental burdens than another, and what are the implications of different power hierarchies in the world? Special attention should be given to observations such as; “A sacrifice does not happen by accident” (Skorstad, 2023).
What’s more, the racialised communities of the Global South are not only facing the destructive force of the Global North but they are also facing the tough consequences of climate change head-on. The ongoing exploitation of the Global South’s lands and interests has been, unfortunately, present for centuries. The Global North has decided to further its interests by choosing to ignore the importance of having a global perspective when dealing with an issue such as climate change. The comprehensive implementation and consideration of a globalised approach of green just transition should be at the centre of such a globalised issue. Thus, as the Global North begins pursuing these policies with ideas such as, the scaling up of electric vehicle use, a global perspective would open up questions such as would prioritising public transport and active travel be more just and what would this look like?
On another note, parts of Ireland could be designated green sacrifice zones in the future. As over 25% of Irish land has been made available for prospecting and open to mining industry. Concern is especially present in Northern Ireland, in particular in Derry and Strabane where 70% of the area is covered by mining prospecting (McGovern, 2023). Specialists have begun to voice their concerns; “rural Ireland is in danger of being ravaged”, and have highlighted how Ireland has allocated 140 times more of its lands to mining than England (McGovern, 2023). Furthermore, the consequences and damages that arise from such harmful activities will be more apparent in the poorest and remotest parts of the country, where they will be forced to withstand the repercussions of the supposed “green transition”.
However, how should countries launch a green just transition model without resources that would prove essential to the infrastructure of such a transition? It is hard to eliminate the use of extractive zones in the struggle for tackling climate change. Furthermore, the question of whether extracting resources can be carried out in a socially and environmentally just manner has yet to be answered. Therefore, many academics argue such zones should not face less investment or be abandoned. Instead, an effort should be made to implement these into a “just transition to another global economic model” (Nadine Scott and A. Smith, 2017). At the heart of the argument, however, is the reiterated need to enforce and impose just supply chains within the green transition.
In conclusion, the lack of a just global perspective on the part of the Global North is evident despite the premise of a just transition. In fact, the idea behind the new wave of just transition is not only to support and prioritise underprivileged communities but, it also has the intention to maximise an ecological transition. Therefore, it is imperative that the Global North should start to consider the implications of its actions and create a real and effectual wave of green transition policies that will be fair and just for everyone within their own countries and especially in the Global South.
McGovern, G. (2023). Can We Avoid The Great Irish Mining Disaster? [online] Hotpress. Available at: https://www.hotpress.com/opinion/can-we-avoid-the-great-irish-mining-disaster-22963560 [Accessed 20 Jan. 2024].
Nadine Scott, D. and A. Smith, A. (2017). ‘Sacrifice Zones’ in the Green Energy Economy: Toward an Environmental Justice Framework. [online] McGill Law Journal. Available at: https://lawjournal.mcgill.ca/article/sacrifice-zones-in-the-green-energy-economy-toward-an-environmental-justice-framework/ [Accessed 20 Jan. 2024].
Skorstad, B. (2023). Sacrifice Zones: A Conceptual Framework for Arctic Justice Studies? [online] Available at: https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/jj.3102550.14.pdf?refreqid=fastly-default%3A21cc450feebfcd55b515900ba61b5b51&ab_segments=&origin=&initiator=&acceptTC=1 [Accessed 20 Jan. 2024].
UNEP (2022). Can the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s mineral resources provide a pathway to peace? [online] UNEP. Available at: https://www.unep.org/news-and-stories/story/can-democratic-republic-congos-mineral-resources-provide-pathway-peace [Accessed 20 Jan. 2024].
My name is Alanna Garcia O’Donnell, I am currently in the 3rd year of my undergraduate degree, studying Politics and Social Justice in UCD. I had the opportunity to do a student internship in TASC from September to November 2023 working with the Climate Justice team and the People’s Transition Project. I have a special interest in international development and gender studies.