Competing to adapt: The biopolitics of climate finance in Southeast Asia

Authors: Kimberley Thomas*, Temple University
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Hazards and Vulnerability, Land Use and Land Cover Change
Keywords: adaptation, competition, water infrastructure, livelihoods, Vietnam
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/10/2021
Start / End Time: 11:10 AM / 12:25 PM
Room: Virtual 15
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The prevalence of climate investments into water sector infrastructure is a telling indicator that adapting to changes in climate often means adapting to changes in water. Such is the case in the Vietnamese Mekong Delta, which is acutely vulnerable to flooding, tropical storms, and sea level rise, among other climate threats. Billions of dollars of foreign climate finance have been mobilized in recent years to expand and reinforce protective structures such as dykes, sea walls, and embankments in Vietnam as climate adaptation measures. However, reading these adaptation efforts through Wendy Brown’s Undoing the Demos, I find that 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 either resign the Mekong Delta to rising sea levels or actively strive to minimize seawater intrusion effectively function as biopolitical projects aimed at regulating life according to the dictates of market logics.

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