Popularly described since the time of French colonization as two rice baskets at opposing ends of a pole, Vietnam’s socio-ecology is strongly structured by the fertile deltas of the Mekong River in the south and the Red River in the north. Like Bangladesh, these deltaic landscapes are acutely vulnerable to climate change hazards such as floods, droughts, sea level rise, and tropical storms. A variety of government, foreign, and multilateral development agencies are therefore actively exploring investment opportunities to buttress Vietnam’s water infrastructure against climate change. However, my research in Bangladesh indicates that foreign climate finance for the country’s flood management infrastructure is destabilizing rather than protecting critical socio-ecological systems.
In this project, I evaluate climate finance as a vehicle for climate justice through a comparative analysis of climate change adaptation programs in the Ganges and Mekong Deltas. Hundreds of billions of dollars of climate finance are being mobilized to help developing countries like Vietnam and Bangladesh adapt to climate change threats. However, the lack of definitional clarity means that climate finance is often disbursed not as grants but as loans with attendant interest, and some programs have been criticized for prioritizing the goals of donor countries and financial institutions over those of the target populations. Thus, there is an open and pressing question whether climate finance serves primarily as a mechanism for industrialized states to secure benefits for themselves or to rectify their historic contributions to climate change and to mitigate the associated impacts that developing countries disproportionately suffer. This work is supported through a Multi-Country Research Fellowship by the Council of American Overseas Research Centers and the Institute for Human Geography.