Political discourses of climate change and migration: resettlement policies in the Maldives

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Abstract

There is general agreement that migration is likely to play an increasingly crucial role in adaptation to climate change. However, as this paper argues, technocratic and de-politicised discourses of climate change have often been invoked to conceal underlying political agendas in which environmental concerns are drawn upon to justify unfavourable government policies of mobility and resettlement. This paper examines the politics of climate change discourse through an analysis of resettlement policies in the Maldives where the government is proposing the consolidation of a population dispersed over 200 islands onto 10–15 islands. However, this initiative is not new. The government has long thought it economically, rather than environmentally, unsustainable to provide services and resources to a dispersed population, and has for many years muted policies to move people in order to reduce the costs on government. Today, the same initiatives are gaining renewed leverage by being couched in environmental terms. Without denying the realities of the negative consequences of climate change for small island states, this article explores the political imperatives that are influencing discussions of climate change and migration, and specifically how environmental discourses are being mobilised to re-introduce previously unpopular resettlement and migration policies.

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