Jon Barnett

ACCESS Seminar: Climate Change and Atoll Islands: Hope Matters, and the Matter of Hope


The idea that climate change may cause low-lying atoll islands to become uninhabitable is now taken for granted in much of climate change science, policy, and media coverage. Thus, islands such as those in Kiribati, the Maldives, the Marshall Islands, and Tuvalu have come to symbolise the crisis of climate change. Narratives about the future of these islands are pervasive, deep, uniformly pessimistic, and relentless, leaving little room for hope that people can continue to live meaningful dignified lives on these islands.

This seminar reports on progress on a research project that seeks to amplify hope for the future of atoll islands. It explains the moral and practical reasons why hope is an important goal of research, and some of the challenges associated with such research. It then describes a diverse array of evidence that together suggests that the future of atoll islands is not hopeless, and that there is much that can be done to sustain meaningful dignified lives on these islands well into the future.


Jon Barnett is Australian Research Council Laureate Fellow in the School of Geography at Melbourne University. He is a political geographer whose research investigates social impacts and responses to environmental change. He has twenty years of experience conducting field-based research in Pacific Island Countries, and in Australia, China, and Timor-Leste. Jon's research has helped explain the impacts of climate change on cultures, food security, inequality, instability, migration, and water security, and ways in which adaptation can promote social justice and peace.