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Accepted Paper:

Vulnerability and Resistance: Exploring the colonial roots of climate change vulnerability discourses.  
Charlotte Weatherill (University of Manchester)

Paper short abstract:

This paper historically analyses dominant framings of climate change vulnerability, focusing on Pacific Islands. I argue that colonial discourses of islands as endangered paradise have persisted in institutional climate change politics, naturalising violent consequences for islands and islanders.

Paper long abstract:

Climate change effects are widely understood to be differentially distributed, both among states, and between social groups. This distribution is explained in the literature through the concept of ‘vulnerability’, and those who are affected are described as ‘the vulnerable’. An indexing project of ranking states according to their vulnerability to climate change has developed in response to calls for knowledge production from the UNFCCC and the IPCC. This positivist approach has had a depoliticising effect, obscuring the actions and choices that create vulnerability, and forcing the concept into a developmental framework.

This paper uses an historical analysis to show how colonial discourses that portrayed islands as inherently fragile and islanders as weak and doomed to extinction, are perpetuated in climate change institutional knowledge creation. I argue that the consequences of this have been violent, allowing the perpetuation of a global adaptation approach to climate change, using the language of development to prioritise protection of the current global political economy and minimise the importance of mitigation.

I also discuss the continued resistance to the dominant logics of vulnerability that have come from islanders themselves, both in the academic work of scholars such as Epeli Hau’ofa and Teresia Teaiwa, and in the activism of groups such as 350 Pacific. I therefore conclude by ‘islanding’ the concept of vulnerability, drawing on this work. This paper therefore aims to island climate change vulnerability by providing a critique of the dominant discourses, and a reimagining of vulnerability through feminist and islander resistance discourses.

Panel P34b
Racial capitalism and climate (in)justice in the 21st century: unsettling colonial entanglements and green 'New Deals' II
  Session 1 Wednesday 30 June, 2021, -