Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Earth & Environmental Sciences


William Solecki

Committee Members

Marianna Pavlovskaya

Mohamed Ibrahim

Kevon Rhiney

Subject Categories

Development Studies | Human Geography | Nature and Society Relations | Other International and Area Studies | Social Justice


mainstreaming adaptation, Caribbean development, socionatural theory, climate policy, adaptation financing, discourse


Caribbean small island developing states (SIDS) are projected to bear the most economic costs from climate risk due to their limited ability to recover from disaster. From 2010-2015, external donors have provided $1477 million in climate financing for the region, of which 32 % has been allocated for climate adaptation activities. At the same time, Caribbean SIDS have an extensive history of participating in regional climate policymaking programs—primarily administered by the development sector (e.g., the World Bank, the Overseas development Institute). These policymaking trainings have promoted an integrated or mainstreamed approach to climate adaptation which seeks to align national development planning with climate financing conditions. The goal of mainstreaming is to increase a country’s capacity to cope with economic loss and damages induced by climate change impacts. Through these efforts, it is commonly understood that the development sector plays a dominant role in shaping the policy choices state actors consider conceivable within the confines of the climate financing process. Specifically, development sector worldviews (discourses) shape SIDS climate policies under economic and techno-managerial framings (resilience-thinking) of adaptation that prioritize economic growth and external expertise. However, the micro-political realities of mainstreaming adaptation are less understood, where local development decision-making conflicts also play a critical role in directing national adaptation planning. As mainstreaming adaptation becomes a dominant approach for SIDS climate policymaking, questions begin to emerge to understand how adaptation is conceptualized and designed alongside development politics—and what implications these relations have on shaping the drivers of SIDS vulnerability.

This dissertation introduces a new examination of mainstreaming adaptation practices that contributes to existing theories on the socionatural politics of climate adaptation and SIDS vulnerability. Analysis is built on contemporary critical adaptation research that attempts to understand the role of political discourses in shaping the subjects of climate adaptation as it relates to national development agendas. These debates attend to how uneven power relations, top-down governing structures, and socio-environmental struggles are embedded in a pro-development paradigm that prioritizes economic growth, external expertise and financing. I extend these discussions by proposing a study of the adaptation dialectic, a theoretical framework that uses a socionatural framing to situate mainstreaming adaptation as a pluralistic process, where there is an interplay between macro-scale climate change politics and micro-scale development planning politics. I use this relational framing to demonstrate how the meaning of climate adaptation needs are shaped by resilience-thinking informed adaptation financing ideology and local socio-environmental conflicts. In this way, this dissertation combines socionatural theory and critical adaptation scholarship to generate new understandings of how adaptation financing is integrated into development planning, and the socionatural political dynamics that shape the ways different knowledge, interests and values count in the mainstreaming policymaking process.

I attend to this extended theoretical framing by performing a grounded analysis of mainstreaming adaptation policy efforts in the Eastern Caribbean nation of Antigua and Barbuda, with a specific focus on the Mckinnon’s and Christian Valley coastal watershed communities. This dissertation illustrates three key findings, 1) how technical-economic problem framings of climate risk shape the entry point for adaptation policy integration, 2) how adaptation financing is inducing a kind of economic and institutional restructuring that is (re)producing top-down governing and economic structures to accommodate external financing and expertise, and 3) how the socio-environmental politics of development planning shapes the identity of climate change vulnerability and meaning of adaptation needs. This dissertation research contends that these findings demonstrate the production of an adaptation economy, where the nation is attempting to extract economic value from vulnerability to create a supply and demand for climate financial products. Findings indicate that creating economic value from vulnerability is based on how the country identifies and ascribes meaning to climate risk and development, which is grounded in contested understandings of environmental change and its causal drivers. In particular, this research found that adaptation financing ideology drives how economic value should be extracted from the identification of vulnerable people and places. At the same time, local understandings of environmental change —strongly influenced by development decisions that have degraded coastal wetland ecosystems and flooded adjacent communities— play a critical role in creating meaning out of the mainstreaming process in a way that aligns with local experiences in order to legitimize policy integration efforts.

In illustrating these dynamics of the mainstreaming policy process, this dissertation highlights the social justice implications of an adaptation economy, where the underlying drivers of vulnerability, such as land tenure insecurity, are marginalized in order to focus on economic development and financing efforts to generate economic returns. I contend that mainstreaming adaptation is an extension of the post-colonial political economy where the country continues to rely on external, wealthier countries for access to expertise, resources and assets, which prioritize economic growth over livelihood insecurity issues. This supports broader observations of mainstreaming adaptation policies, which have been shown to lack a connection to vulnerability reduction approaches. I propose that further research is needed to understand the uneven distribution of benefits from mainstreaming under the economic and institutional restructuring of the adaptation economy. Specifically, I advocate that further studies need to shift away from observing the uneven outcomes of adaptation, and instead shift focus to the dynamism of mainstreaming adaptation politics that traces the exercise of uneven power dynamics through adaptation planning practices. In this way, critical adaptation scholarship can begin to holistically account for why particular problem framings of climate change are not included in on the ground adaptation efforts.

This work is embargoed and will be available for download on Saturday, June 03, 2023

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