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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Adapting Kiribati, adapting projects : what happens when the World Bank does climate change adaptation? Webber, Sophie


In this thesis I analyse the effects of the Kiribati Adaptation Project (KAP). The KAP is an early climate change adaptation project and it has been instrumental in the World Bank’s (the implementer of the KAP) expansion into the climate change agenda. I situate the KAP in the long, colonial, history of developmentalism and draw from critical development and policy studies to understand this project. Although climate change adaptation and development are contradictory in many senses, they have similarities: they are practiced by the same institutions, with the same project management techniques, and they are implemented through projects. I ask the following research questions: 1. What work does climate change adaptation do as an organising principle for a project? 2. How is climate change adaptation as a policy articulated into grounded practices? 3. What are the unintended effects of a novel climate change adaptation project in an archetypical vulnerable place? To answer these research questions I draw from six weeks field work in Kiribati, where I met with KAP project managers and consultants, government officials and other interested onlookers. In chapter three, I observe that the KAP was focused on producing technical reports and technical expertise. I analyse why this is the case and what some of the effects of this are. By participating in the KAP, consultants, funders and other i-Matang relatives of the project gain expertise in the novel, and increasingly lucrative, arena of climate change adaptation. In chapter four, I analyse the ways in which i-Kiribati actors assemble and perform their vulnerability to climate change. Performances are an intentional strategy to gain recognition for the plight of the low-lying and fragile atoll nation. Officials and public servants have little choice but to perform their vulnerability; the Government of Kiribati depends on these finances, but this dependence is uncertain. The KAP is a key site, as it exemplifies the asymmetries of climate change adaptation and mitigation. The KAP expects to create local resilience in the face of an exogenous threat, in the place least able to be resilient, and least responsible for causing the threat.

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