Green grabbing or green colonialism is the foreign land grabbing and appropriation of resources for environmental purposes,[1] resulting in a pattern of unjust development.[2] The purposes of green grabbing are varied; it can be done for ecotourism, conservation of biodiversity or ecosystem services, for carbon emission trading, or for biofuel production. It involves governments, NGOs, and corporations, often working in alliances. Green grabs can result in local residents' displacement from land where they live or make their livelihoods. It is considered to be a subtype of green imperialism.[3]

Who is affected by green grabbing?

Green grabbing primarily affects smallholders, and leads to various forms of injustice, conflict, and displacement. Confiscation of land by both local and foreign companies, as well as by rural elites and government bodies, in the name of environmental reasons, often worsens existing vulnerabilities and inequalities in these communities.[4] Areas most vulnerable to green grabs are those in poor economic conditions, developing countries, or on indigenous land.[5]

Definition and purpose

"Green grabbing" was first coined in 2008 by journalist John Vidal, in a piece that appeared in The Guardian called "The great green land grab".[1] Social anthropologist Melissa Leach notes that it "builds on well-known histories of colonial and neo-colonial resource alienation in the name of the environment".[6] Green grabbing is a more specific form of land grabbing, in which the motive of the land grab is for environmental reasons.[1] Green grabbing can be done for conservation of biodiversity or ecosystem services, carbon emission trading, or for ecotourism.[2][7] Conservation groups might encourage members of the public to donate money to "adopt" an acre of land, which goes towards land acquisition. Companies who engage in carbon emission trading might employ a green grab to plant trees—the resulting carbon offset can then be sold or traded.[6] One program, Reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+), compensates companies and countries for conserving forests, though the definition of forest also includes forest plantations consisting of a single tree species (monoculture).[8]

Green grabbing can also be done for the production of biofuels. Biofuel production efforts, led by the US and European Union, have been a main driver of land grabbing in general. The International Land Coalition states that 59% of land grabs between 2000 and 2010 were because of biofuels.[8]


Indebted governments may be especially vulnerable to green grabs, as they may agree to privatize and sell public assets to avoid bankruptcy.[1][9] Green grabs involve large tracts of land consisting of thousands or millions of hectares.[1][10] Green grabs have occurred in Africa, Latin America, and Southeast Asia.[1][11] Environmental activists and critics have also warned that the Green New Deal[12][13] and COP26[14][15] could exacerbate green colonialism.

The indigenous Sámi community of northern Scandinavia, as well as Norwegian and Swedish activists, have accused the Norwegian government of green colonialism because of the construction of wind farms on Sámi land.[16][17]


Modern green grabs are often enacted through alliances between national elites, government agencies, and private actors. Examples can include international environmental policy institutions, multi-national corporations, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). These varied actors align to achieve common goals; for example, ecotourism initiatives can result in the alignment of tourism companies, conservation groups, and governments. Conservation groups can also align with military or paramilitary groups to accomplish shared aims. Actors can also include entrepreneurs trying to profit from eco-capitalism, such as companies developing forest carbon offset projects, biochar companies, and pharmaceutical businesses.[1]


Green grabbing has been prominent in the energy sector. Often, as countries and governments enter transnational climate agreements such as the Paris Agreement or the Kyoto Protocol, they commit to reaching certain sustainability targets.[18] To fulfill these quotes on initiatives such as renewable energy implementation, indigenous or public lands are seized without consideration for local communities. Confiscated lands may be used for solar energy, wind farms, and biofuel.

Under the pretense of environmental preservation, green grabbing borrows from historical stories of colonial resource appropriation.[19] This phenomenon involves a diverse array of participants, including entrepreneurs, activists, and most significantly NGOs. Social anthropologists James Fairhead, Melissa Leach, and Ian Scoones note that conservation initiatives often involve partnerships between international environmental organizations, NGOs, national elites, and multinational corporations. Examples include cases like Rio Tinto's activities in Madagascar, where land acquisition for environmental purposes overlaps with mineral extraction, and collaborations between tourist operators, conservation agencies, and governments to promote ecotourism in countries like Colombia, Tanzania, and South Africa. These collaborations underscore the complex dynamics underlying conservation schemes and the blurring of boundaries between environmental protection and profit-driven exploitation.



The drive for wind parks, in post-crisis Greece, has given rise to green grabbing. The argument supporting green energy as a remedy for the nation's economic and environmental problems has gained popularity despite Greece's economic difficulties. The negative socio-ecological effects of wind park growth, such as land expropriation, environmental damage, and the escalation of socioeconomic inequality, are frequently ignored in this narrative.[20]

The wind energy industry is dominated by multinational businesses, which promotes wealth accumulation and green grabbing at the expense of regional communities and ecosystems. In a case study of Grece’s wind park development, Christina Zoi details that “Neoliberalisation has instigated green grabbing (land, financial and other resources) with adverse implications on local stock-breeders and farmers, domestic and small business electricity consumers, conservation and local biodiversity. These cannot be considered as negligible even under the face of accelerating climate change and its consequences.” [20]


The development of the Bíi Hioxo wind park involved not only the physical occupation of the land but also the manipulation of narratives surrounding climate change mitigation and the green economy to legitimize the project.[21][22] The tactics used to suppress resistance, such as portraying wind energy as a solution to energy and climate crises, reflect a form of greenwashing aimed at pacifying opposition and advancing industrial expansion. Furthermore, the involvement of powerful actors such as Gas Natural Fenosa and local elites highlights how green grabbing operates through alliances between state and corporate interests, leading to the dispossession of local communities and the exploitation of natural resources for profit.[23]



Morocco's solar projects, such as the Ouarzazate Solar Power Station, which employs concentrated solar-thermal power (CSP) technology, diverts water resources away from drinking and agriculture in an already semi-arid region. The construction of the Ouarzazate plant, funded through public-private partnerships and loans from international financial institutions, has resulted in annual deficits and added to Morocco's public debt. The $9 billion project's debt, incurred through loans from international financial institutions like the World Bank and the European Investment Bank, is backed by Moroccan government guarantees. On the local scale, those most affected included pastoralists who did not receive proper compensation for using their property and were not consulted about how the project might affect water supplies.[23]


The Indian government's solar energy initiatives, like the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission (JNNSM),[24][25] aim to ramp up solar energy capacity to mitigate climate change and reduce poverty. Yet, the pursuit of solar energy projects often involves the dispossession of agropastoralists from their lands, which are essential for grazing, fodder, and fuelwood collection. These lands, categorized as government-owned "marginal" or "wastelands," are transformed into solar parks through coercive state policies, denying agropastoralists access to vital resources.[26] Agropastoralist communities often encounter difficulties in accessing necessary energy resources, including traditional fuel such as firewood and modern options like solar-generated electricity. This dual deprivation contributes to the marginalization experienced by rural populations.

ICDP in Madagascar

The Integrated Conservation and Development Projects (ICDP) in Madagascar were mostly managed by NGOs supported by the state government. Neoliberalism led to decentralized conservation efforts from the 1990s until the mid 2000s. At that point, there ceased being monetary compensation from the government in favor of conservation efforts being contracted out to North American organizations. The internal division between high status and high paid jobs of North American workers in comparison to the low wage work of Madagascarans as the enforcers of unpopular fortress conservation through the creation of nature reserves.[27] The Malagasy people within Madagascar see the conservation efforts as attempts at green grabbing and neocolonialism. North American NGOs have responded to the claims as ungrounded, placing the lack of acceptance of the reserves system as a failure in the education and understanding of sustainability of residents.[27] In 2009, the presidential administration of Marc Ravalomanana considered a deal with Daewoo Logistics, a South Korean company, to lease 1.3 million hectares of arable land to grow maize and palm oil.[27] This potential deal was seen as another attempt at colonialism, as the land was to be used by and for foreign nations while a large portion of land, up to 10 percent, was being allotted for conservation reserve. Protest against the negotiations was responded to with military action, leading to the removal of Ravalomanana. The deal was not put into effect and the resistance and protest of Madagascarans led to closure of multiple national parks and reserves, allowing the residents to continue their use of the land.


Green grabbing can result in the expulsion of indigenous or peasant communities from the land they live on.[11] In other cases, the use, authority, and management of the resources is restructured, potentially alienating local residents.[6] Evictions due to palm oil biofuel has resulted in the displacement of millions of people in Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Malaysia, and India.[8] The practice has been criticized in Brazil, where the government referred to one land acquisition NGO as eco-colonialist.[28] A shaman of the Yanomami tribe published a statement through Survival International saying, "Now you want to buy pieces of rainforest, or to plant biofuels. These are useless. The forest cannot be bought; it is our life and we have always protected it. Without the forest, there is only sickness."[29] The head of the Forest Peoples Programme Simon Colchester said, "Conservation has immeasurably worsened the lives of indigenous peoples throughout Africa," noting that it resulted in forced expulsion, loss of livelihoods, and violation of human rights.[28]

See also


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  2. ^ a b Iskander, Natasha N.; Lowe, Nichola (2020). "Climate Change and Work: Politics and Power". Annual Review of Political Science. 23: 111–131. doi:10.1146/annurev-polisci-061418-095236.
  3. ^ "Ron Arnold: Green-grabbing for carbon 'offsets' takes toll on Africans". Washington Examiner. 4 April 2013. Retrieved 30 April 2023.
  4. ^ Busscher, Nienke; Parra, Constanza; Vanclay, Frank (2020-02-23). "Environmental justice implications of land grabbing for industrial agriculture and forestry in Argentina". Journal of Environmental Planning and Management. 63 (3): 500–522. doi:10.1080/09640568.2019.1595546. ISSN 0964-0568.
  5. ^ Stock, Ryan; Birkenholtz, Trevor (2021-07-29). "The sun and the scythe: energy dispossessions and the agrarian question of labor in solar parks". The Journal of Peasant Studies. 48 (5): 984–1007. doi:10.1080/03066150.2019.1683002. ISSN 0306-6150.
  6. ^ a b c Leach, Melissa (20 June 2012). "The dark side of the green economy: 'Green grabbing'". Al Jazeera. Retrieved 27 August 2020.
  7. ^ Corson, Catherine; MacDonald, Kenneth Iain (2012). "Enclosing the global commons: The convention on biological diversity and green grabbing". Journal of Peasant Studies. 39 (2): 263–283. doi:10.1080/03066150.2012.664138. S2CID 153985368.
  8. ^ a b c Vigil, Sara (2018). "Green grabbing-induced displacement". In McLeman, Robert; Gemenne, François (eds.). Routledge Handbook of Environmental Displacement and Migration. Routledge. pp. 370–381. ISBN 9781317272250.
  9. ^ Weeber, Stan (2016-10-31). "Nodes of resistance to green grabbing: a political ecology". Environment and Social Psychology. 1 (2). doi:10.18063/ESP.2016.02.006. ISSN 2424-8975.
  10. ^ Scheidel, Arnim; Work, Courtney (2018). "Forest plantations and climate change discourses: New powers of 'green' grabbing in Cambodia". Land Use Policy. 77: 9–18. doi:10.1016/j.landusepol.2018.04.057. S2CID 158227726.
  11. ^ a b Rocheleau, Dianne E. (2015). "Networked, rooted and territorial: Green grabbing and resistance in Chiapas". The Journal of Peasant Studies. 42 (3–4): 695–723. doi:10.1080/03066150.2014.993622. S2CID 154521594.
  12. ^ Douo, Myriam (2021-06-23). "Climate colonialism and the EU's Green Deal". Al Jazeera. Retrieved 2021-12-04.
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  18. ^ Sumudu, Atapattu; Andrea, Schapper (2019-03-08), "From UNFCCC to Paris Agreement", Human Rights and the Environment, Abingdon, Oxon; New York, NY: Routledge, 2019. | Series: Key issues in environment and sustainability: Routledge, pp. 205–230, ISBN 978-1-315-19339-7, retrieved 2024-03-02((citation)): CS1 maint: location (link)
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  20. ^ a b Siamanta, Zoi Christina (June 2019). "Wind parks in post-crisis Greece: Neoliberalisation vis-à-vis green grabbing". Environment and Planning E: Nature and Space. 2 (2): 274–303. doi:10.1177/2514848619835156. ISSN 2514-8486.
  21. ^ Dunlap, Alexander (2018-03-19). "Counterinsurgency for wind energy: the Bíi Hioxo wind park in Juchitán, Mexico". The Journal of Peasant Studies. 45 (3): 630–652. doi:10.1080/03066150.2016.1259221. ISSN 0306-6150.
  22. ^ Dunlap, Alexander (July 2017). "'The Town is Surrounded:' From Climate Concerns to life under Wind Turbines in La Ventosa, Mexico". Human Geography. 10 (2): 16–36. doi:10.1177/194277861701000202. ISSN 1942-7786.
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