White Man’s Burden: Developed world’s diktats to developing countries

Picture: Agency

“Take up the White Man’s burden, Send forth the best ye breed, Go send your sons to exile, To serve your captives’ need….”

This is the first verse of Rudyard Kipling’s ‘infamous’ poem “The White Man’s Burden: The United States and The Philippine Islands”, published in February 1899. Kipling urged the US to learn from Britain and take up the ‘burden’ of the empire. The idea was to dictate to the natives what was ‘right’ for them. Nothing much has changed in the last 123 years, despite the term ‘White Man’s Burden’ being the de facto euphemism for imperialism and colonialism. Unable to let go of that burden, the West still attempts to repackage its assumed moral superiority in the form of “advice” to tell the global south what to do to save humanity. Asking developing countries to cut down on their carbon emissions while refusing to free up carbon space for poorer countries is an example of this mindset.

The West wants the onus of climate change to be on the global south. It wants developing countries should cut their carbon emissions rapidly, ignoring the strong positive correlation between CO2 emissions and economic growth. So what if it was the west whose per capita carbon emissions are much higher than the global south? So what if the developed world has polluted the world and, in turn, ensured the overall well-being of its residents through high growth rates? So what if the Centre for Global Development says that the developed countries are responsible for 79 Percent of historical carbon emissions from 1850 to 2011? So what in several negotiations, the West pushes hard for issues that affect them, and they adopt a soft approach towards the needs of the poorer countries?

The West deploys toolkits to name and shame countries that do not accede to their morally superior “advice”. One way is to peddle paranoia about the severity of the problem and the ‘failure’ of the developing world toward taking actions prescribed by the West. One should quote the 2022 report of the Lancet Countdown on health and climate change. “Because of the rapidly increasing temperatures, vulnerable populations (adults older than 65 years, and children younger than one year of age) were exposed to 3·7 billion more heatwave days in 2021 than annually in 1986–2005, and heat-related deaths surged by 68% between 2000–04 and 2017–21, a death toll that was significantly exacerbated by the confluence of the COVID-19 pandemic.” Several media across the world have reported this finding in the Lancet report.

However, there are two issues in this reportage. (1) Many have ignored to report the caveat, i.e., that the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the death toll. (2) Most importantly, while the absolute number of deaths of 65+ individuals from heatwaves has increased, so has the number of 65+ older people. Between the years 2000 and 2022, the number of old people increased by around 80%. Thus, older people dying per 100,000 is almost constant. The report’s authors have not adjusted for the rising population of older people. Such studies and reportage hide such basic facts and call on the developing world to take immediate action.

Climate change is real. The global south, LMICs, LDCs, and island nations are bearing the brunt of climate-related disasters. But should the global south be held responsible for massively cutting carbon emissions while the west doesn’t keep their end of the bargain? The developed world has undoubtedly failed to make reparations for the climate change sins they committed in the last century.

In concessional terms, the transition to green energy will be difficult for the global south without foreign capital. Limited avenues for climate financing constitute a significant impediment for LDCs and developing countries to carry out necessary steps. In 2009, the developed world agreed to provide $100bn a year by 2020 to help poorer countries—the $100 bn a year commitment was supposed to be a floor and not the ceiling. But according to the Independent Expert Group on Climate Finance, even in 2020, the yearly commitments never reached the $100 bn target. The developed world again promised to channel US$100 billion a year to less wealthy nations by 2020. At the same time, the UN tells us that much more is needed. UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that $1.6 trillion–$3.8 trillion is required annually to avoid warming exceeding 1.5 °C. This is entirely in line with the pattern of the developed world promising one thing and not honoring those promises, as has been evidenced in recent times as well. However, the developing world is blamed for not doing enough for its citizens and the world.

Despite this, developing countries should carry on with the efforts to reduce emissions. For instance, India now stands committed to reducing the emissions intensity of its GDP by 45 percent by 2030 from the 2005 level. Also, it will achieve about 50 percent cumulative electric power installed capacity from non-fossil fuel-based energy resources by 2030.

The next climate change conference will be held in Sharm El-Sheikh in November 2022. The developed countries should walk the talk. It should be the historical polluters who should foot the bill for climate change. Mitigating Climate Change through sustainable climate change financing should be the “Developed Countries’ Burden” and not that of the LMICs and LDCs.

.. we look for your small support. Mero Tribune publishes original, exclusive, and high-quality opinion articles and commentaries. Our mission is to offer people innovative ideas and opinions from the world’s foremost thinkers and leaders. We aim to give voice to the marginalized and oppressed. We have no funding, no commercial or political bosses. Just the passion and determination to bring readers the world’s leading ideas and opinions, its people and power. We are independent and free to read. Help us stay that way. Click Here or Donate Button below to Support our Mission through Credit, Debit, or Paypal-


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here