Speculating about impacts of the Ukraine war
Although perceived mainly as a “European” crisis, the war in Ukraine is yet another disaster with massive impact on the Global South – affecting development cooperation, geopolitical constellations and basic commodity prices. Having observed these effects slowly unfold, Christof Hartmann, Professor of Political Science, International Relations and African Politics at the University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany, cautiously attempted to analyse the war’s development effects, its implications for policy spaces for the Global South and potential impact on notions of Development within the North. Undoubtedly, the war has a massive impact on European countries which weakens the EU, and, in Hartmann’s words, let it to a “kind of potential critical juncture”.
Taking a closer look at price increases for central commodities such as food, fertilizer and fuel in the South, Hartmann highlighted that these increases as well as rising debts had already taken place before the war as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, and recently even started to fall in some places due to market responses. At the same time, however, he referred to severe increases in hunger during the last month as well as continuing food price increases in certain countries in the Middle East and North Africa who are highly dependent on imports from the Ukraine and Russia. From this rather ambivalent overall situation he concluded that the Ukraine war is rather the most recent crisis affecting development in the Global South than the main cause.
From the wider political perspective, Hartmann questioned the seemingly uncontested call for a stronger role of geopolitics in Europe and North-South relations, together with a growing simplistic bipolarity, as apparent from the heavy public interest in assessing voting behaviours in the UN General Assembly. Widely ignoring further aspects important for academic analysis, “China and Russia are being considered the same, and simple dichotomies between democracies and autocracies prevail”. This perceived necessity to position themselves towards claims from the Global North causes much pressure on Southern countries and greatly affects their bargaining power. Others, as Hartmann has noted, see this war as a purely European affair which will dramatically weaken European economies and might reinforce the trend towards a new multipolar order with a diminished European role. In this situation, Hartmann explained, Southern organisations, however, might still find it difficult to exercise collective agency as they are either split ‘ideologically’ or find it prudent to keep a ‘neutral’ stance.
The most speculative part of Hartmann’s analysis, as he pointed out, is about the war’s potential to change European understandings of development concepts. There seems to be a shift in priority toward security – and particularly military security – with many ongoing debates pointing towards a much narrower understanding of development. So far, climate policy has not fallen prey for this, having been framed as a security issue before the Ukraine war. What he has generally observed is that “Europe is much inward-looking in its public debates and doesn’t listen much to other global voices”. However, in Germany for example, he doesn’t see any clear signals yet towards major changes of development policies, despite the major cuts in scholarships: “The bigger fear is that we see a redirection of budgets for peace and security for merely military purposes. On a positive note, there doesn’t’ seem to be a link between a political position of a country and development cooperation as the EU maintains a strong interest to cooperate with Southern countries.”
South Africa: strong climate vulnerability amidst other long-standing development challenges
As Pamela Mondliwa, special adviser on economic policy to the South African Ministry of Finance, stressed, South Africa, like many other African Countries, is particularly affected by climate change. Not only because of the high vulnerability of its agriculture and food systems and the floods that revealed the inadequacy of disaster management funding and destroyed economic infrastructure, but also because its economy is still very carbon intensive. South Africa, as she explained, is ranked 12th in the world by greenhouse gas emissions, but only 34th in terms of GDP. Not least because of initiatives such as the EU’s Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism, the competitiveness of the country’s exports is under threat.
So, as Mondliwa continued, South Africa simultaneously needs to decarbonise its economy, adapt to a massively changing climate and tackle its long-standing development challenges such as high levels of unemployment, poverty and inequality, which at least shouldn’t be worsened by measures to decarbonise the economy and adapt agricultural production. Given that coal mining for example takes place in a region almost without any other economic activities, as she explained, it is extremely difficult to create alternative jobs the region, which puts additional pressure on increasing the social security net: “This is all costs a lot of money that we don’t have, as it would triple the current debt. According to estimates by the World Bank, South Africa’s economic transition would cost 500 billion South African Dollars, whereas the country’s whole GDP in 2021 amounted to 419 billion. Already now, debt-service cost is the highest individual budget spending item”.
Despite all these challenges, Mondliwa sees potential perspectives for a green industrialisation by setting up production capacities for renewable energy-based green hydrogen and synthetic fuels which could put the country in a competitive position in key industries. This, however, would require something “South Africa hasn’t shown much talent in so far: designing and coordinating good and transformative industrial policies and regulations that make the transition more inclusive”. She nevertheless expressed cautious optimism towards the viability of this strategy in the current situation: “For the first time there is a potential alignment of interests between major groups, established business, previously excluded entrepreneurs, trade unions, government and society towards this goal. This would require, however, a change from the current regulatory towards a more developmental approach”.