Meg Parsons (The University of Auckland): "Decolonizing Climate Change Adaptation in Small Islands: Oceanic Perspectives on Climate Change, Mobility and Sovereignty"

Sep 13, 2022, 5:00 pm6:45 pm
Free and Open to the Public
Event Description


Teresa K Taiwan (2007, p 517) wrote:
“Shall we make ‘island’ a verb? As a noun it’s so vulnerable to impinging forces. Let us turn the energy of the island inside out. Let us ‘island’ the world”. In this lecture I interweave oceanic thinking (Steinberg, 2005) and relationally of islands (Strafford et al. 2011) with Indigenous Pacific viewpoints on oceanic island nations and territories focusing on climate change vulnerability, mobility, and adaptation. The majority of climate change adaptation studies on small islands emphasise islands as inherently vulnerable places. Small islands’ exposure, sensitivity and lack of adaptive capacity are recurrent themes within international climate change media, political and academic discussions.  Such representations of islands-as-vulnerable (so called sinking islands) focus on socio-spatial and economic terms: their political, economic and physical “smallness” renders them vulnerable (Jarillo and Barnett, 2022, p. 848). Yet, as I will demonstrate in this lecture, the conceptualisation of “smallness” and “vulnerable” is a result of the Western geopolitical gaze, which enacts colonial power dynamics by constructing the island (and islanders) as a powerless other. Such apocalyptic narratives of “sinking islands” and Pacific “climate refugees” are strongly rejected by most Pacific scholars, leaders, and community members. Instead, as I will demonstrate in this lecture, the histories, cultures, and ways of life of the diverse Oceania island communities of Moana-Nuia-a-Kiva (the Pacific Ocean) demonstrate the numerous ways Indigenous peoples’ can and are resilient and the different ways in which they can and are adapting to changing socio-ecological circumstances, which includes employing different knowledges, mobilities, and forms of sovereignty. Accordingly, in this lecture, I draw decolonising and anti-colonial theorising by Pacific and other Indigenous scholars (Hau’ofa, 1993; Welsey-Smith, 2007, 2015; Smith, 1999) to consider not only how diverse island communities in the Pacific Ocean are experiencing the impacts of climate change, but also their diverse ways of adapting, which include but is not limited to migration. As such I employ “island” as used as a verb of potentialities and enduring relationships instead of a noun of restricted space and inherent vulnerabilities. Climate change is a crisis for all peoples, particularly those in the Global South and BIPOC. However, what my lecture hopes to demonstrate to you all is that Indigenous peoples from Oceania not only possess the capacity to adapt but can enact adaptation pathways that allow them to maintain or enhance their sovereignties, but it requires us (scholars, donors, decision-makers, NGOs) to critically recognise the (neo)colonial discourses and knowledges that continue to pervade climate change governance, finance, and adaptation projects, and actively seek to decolonising the policy processes, governance and financing of adaptation, and seek to position Indigenous knowledges, values, and sovereignties at the heart of adaptation in the Pacific. 


  • Liechtenstein Institute on Self-Determination
  • C-PREE
  • Climate Futures Initiative
  • High Meadows Environmental Institute
  • University Center for Human Values