Climate and Development Research in Small Island Developing States: The Benefits of a Political Ecology Approach

Political ecology has been widely applied to analyse processes of agricultural development, most notably where there are complex relationships between ecological, political and economic factors. Political ecology explores how the impacts of environmental change are felt unequally by economies and societies. Small island developing states, which often produce low levels of greenhouse gas emissions, yet are on the frontline of climate change impacts, demonstrate the unequal nature of the impact of environmental change. The unique vulnerabilities of small island developing states have been documented in numerous international environmental agreements. However, there is an absence of both political ecology in island studies and islands in political ecology. Here we make the case for adopting a political ecology approach when studying adaptations to environmental and climate change in small island developing states. We focus on several universal themes prevalent in islands research, notably: sovereignty, migration, disaster risk reduction and natural resource management trade-offs. This chapter also explores what political ecology can bring to the subject of climate and development in small islands, and concludes that a political ecology approach to sustainable development in small islands can support a reconceptualisation of the challenges faced, as well as reshape perceptions of adaptive capacity, and opportunities for future adaptation.

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