13.01.2022 | DIE: Virtual Workshop: Compelled to compete: Rendering climate change vulnerability investable

In the third of five research-in-progress seminars co-hosted by the American Associations of Geographers’ (AAG) Development Geographies Specialty Group and the German Development Institute (DIE), we welcome Professor Kimberley Thomas (Temple University).

Prof. Thomas is a widely cited scholar of the geopolitics of water, marine systems, migration, and differential vulnerabilities to climate change. In her paper that we are going to read and discuss, she investigates approaches to climate adaptation in Vietnam and argues, inter alia, that neoliberal environmental governance translates collective problems into individual-level responsibilities. During the seminar, Prof. Thomas is particularly keen to explore alternative conceptual frameworks or bodies of literature that might help refine her analysis. She has also asked for feedback on how well the paper speaks to climate change and development researchers in academic, policy and practitioner circles, and she hopes to receive input on potential outlets for this work. The seminar is open to everyone interested in this topic irrespective of affiliation or geographic location, and researchers and practitioners are encouraged to join. Participants need to register in advance to receive a copy of the paper and, on the day of the event, the Zoom link to the seminar. Prof. Thomas is going to introduce her main arguments briefly at the beginning; those present will then be asked to discuss the paper with a view to co-producing constructive feedback. All participants should therefore read the paper in advance. The seminar will be moderated by Professor Jamey Essex (University of Windsor) and Professor Daniel Esser (DIE). Chatham House rules apply.

Paper abstract:

Billions of dollars of foreign climate finance have been mobilized in recent years to expand and reinforce protective structures such as dikes, sea walls, and embankments in Vietnam as climate adaptation measures. However, climate-financed delta plans describe at-risk populations in collective terms to justify costly, large-scale interventions that paradoxically disaggregate these same groups into rational-choice individuals upon whom responsibility for effective adaptation is placed. I analyze climate adaptation funding and state policies aimed at implementing the Mekong Delta Plan and find that mandates to increase competitiveness reinscribe uneven social vulnerability to the impacts of climate change. Contradictory delta management and climate adaptation strategies that resign the Mekong Delta to rising sea levels or actively strive to minimize seawater intrusion effectively function to regulate life according to the dictates of market logics. The unfortunate result is that the people most vulnerable to climate change are made individually responsible for a collective problem. However, this work goes beyond corroborating earlier research on the responsibilizing tendencies of neoliberal environmental governance to examine how actors at every scale are enrolled in the imperative to compete.

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Source: Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik (DIE), 20 December 2021