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Climate Change Vulnerability and Resistance in Small Island Nations : Critical Discourse Analysis of COP Speeches from 2016 to 2021

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Title: Climate Change Vulnerability and Resistance in Small Island Nations : Critical Discourse Analysis of COP Speeches from 2016 to 2021
Author(s): Kairala, Viivi Matilda
Contributor: University of Helsinki, Faculty of Arts
Degree program: Master's Programme in Intercultural Encounters
Specialisation: Humanities Track
Language: English
Acceptance year: 2023
Climate change is the most pressing and dangerous crisis that the world faces today, as it concerns not only the lives of our generation but the future of the world. Especially the so-called small island nations have been viewed as particularly vulnerable to climate change in international climate change discourse. However, these views, both in academia and political negotiations, have often ignored the views of islanders themselves. There is a need for a better understanding of how islanders conceptualize vulnerability and other types of agencies such as resistance in order to create better policies to battle climate change. In this thesis, I set out to find answers to three questions: how island representatives conceptualize their vulnerability and resistance to climate change, how these concepts have changed during the years following the influential Paris Agreement in 2015, and whether there are differences between how islands talk about the concepts. In this thesis I analyzed 40 speeches by nine Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) countries in five Conference of Parties (COP) -meetings from 2016 to 2021. The transcripts of speeches were collected from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) website and analyzed using critical discourse analysis, with the help of decolonial theory to interpret the results. Firstly, island representatives conceptualized climate vulnerability as a phenomenon caused both by climate change and colonial systems. Islanders both recognized themselves as vulnerable, but also used the concept to criticize colonial systems that both cause these vulnerabilities and prevent finding solutions to them. Thus, climate vulnerability is both a real threat to the islanders and a way to criticize colonial systems. Secondly, by using the concept of resistance, island representatives demonstrated the complex, varied ways of existing on the islands by presenting themselves as moral leaders and large ocean nations. Thus, islanders have the capability to be both leaders and followers, small and large, and vulnerable and resistant – one must not simplify the complex island experiences using only one term, vulnerability. Thirdly, both vulnerability and resistance as concepts have undergone changes throughout the six-year period studied, as urgency to find solutions has grown. These changes imply that the ongoing phenomenon of climate change is affecting the ways islanders understand and perform their vulnerability and resistance in the international arena. Thus, researchers and policymakers need to pay attention to more possible changes in the future. Finally, there are both similarities and differences between AOSIS countries in how they conceptualized climate vulnerability and resistance, proving that the diversity of island experiences should not be simplified in academia or climate negotiations.
Keyword(s): climate change AOSIS resistance vulnerability decolonial theory

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