Research into Climate Change and Democracy in Fiji

I have been invited to deliver a conference paper at the triennial consultation of the Global Network for Public Theology in Stellenbosch, South Africa. The conference dates are 24-26 October 2016.

The theme of their meeting is “Democracy and Social Justice in Glocal Contexts“. The details of my proposed paper are:


Public Theology in the Context of Climate Change and Fiji’s Unchanging State of Exception


Applying the theory of the “state of exception” from Carl Schmitt and Giorgio Agamben to Fijian public life, this paper examines whether the crisis of climate change facing this island nation could strengthen the case for the Fijian government’s current state of exception to the detriment of constitutional democracy.

Following democratic elections in 2014, the international community once again recognizes Fiji as formally democratic. Yet the constitution sometimes finds itself overruled in favour of decrees made by the government of former coup-maker and elected Prime Minister Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama. In this way, Fiji public life lies suspended in a “state of exception” between democracy and dictatorship.

Fiji is also facing the effects of climate change, which may include sea-level rise, more devastating cyclones, and lessened food security. In February 2016, Fiji was hit by Tropical Cyclone Winston, which claimed 44 lives and destroyed more than 40,000 homes. In the wake of Winston, the government declared a temporary state of emergency and imposed curfews. This paper investigates whether the ongoing and increasing threat of climate change to Fiji may reinforce or strengthen the exceptional nature of Fijian political life, giving further reasons for additional decrees and the continued denial of full democratic rule.

Finally, the paper will examine what prospects there are for public theology in this political atmosphere. Some people see climate change as something that only states can deal with adequately and are willing to give the state increased power to do so. Public theology might suggest that the issue of climate illustrates state failure and offers great potential for the church, as a leading actor in Fijian society, to do public theology in such a way that deals with climate also as a faith issue, and in this way decentralize the Fijian response to this threat.

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