Determining who is most vulnerable to climate change, and how, is not a simple calculus. Despite the widespread use of rankings and indexes of climate vulnerability, there is no agreement within Southeast Asia on the primary factors that contribute to vulnerability, nor how to measure them. Because indicators can be highly subjective, there is an inevitably political nature to determining who is vulnerable to climate change, and what to do about it. Using examples drawn from Vietnam in particular, Professor Pamela McElwee highlights the fact that climate vulnerability is not simply a matter of being physically exposed to a climate hazard like sea level rise. Rather, determining what vulnerability is, how it should be measured, and who is at risk is often political. There are also benefits and risks to how countries are perceived as being climate vulnerable that are often not acknowledged, and which influence climate financing decision-making by both private and public entities. This talk will address how these politics play out in Southeast Asia, and discuss how they relate to COP26 happening in Glasgow in November.
Pamela McElwee is a professor in the Department of Human Ecology at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. For the past 25 years, her research interests have concerned human adaptation to global environmental change, broadly defined, with particular expertise in biodiversity conservation and climate change in Asia. Her work focuses on how individuals and households respond to changes in the physical environment, and how their responses are shaped by external policies, markets, and other constraints. Most of McElwee’s research combines qualitative and quantitative household-level social analysis of environmental decision-making and resource use, with most of her fieldwork focusing on Vietnam.