Date of Award

Spring 5-7-2020

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


Political Science

First Advisor

Reo Matsuzaki

Second Advisor

Issac Kamola


As entire island nations slip beneath rising seas, how can we reimagine a political future where the effects of climate change are already in full force? In recent years, it has become increasingly apparent that there is a fundamental lack of legal protections for those fleeing environmental degradation and the effects of global sea level rise. This lack of protection is felt particularly strongly in the Pacific region, where many communities are faced with existential threats to their way of life and self-determination. However, despite this historic lack of support from the international community, the Pacific Islands states have continuously pushed their climate-forward agenda in debates leading up to the landmark 2015 Paris Accords, even going so far as earning themselves multiple mentions in the text of the Accords. In January of 2020, Pacific actors even pressured a landmark UN decision granting international protection to a new class of “climate refugees”--a distinction that had no legal value until this monumental agreement. How did such tiny, geo-politically distant actors create such dramatic movement in a global forum dominated by industrial superpowers? The answer to this puzzle lies within the creative, multifaceted, and sometimes bizarre strategies of Pacific Island leaders in gaining international attention and sympathy towards their cause. Through a collaboration between state and non-state actors, these Pacific Island delegates effectively pushed their climate agenda with a variety of different tactics; namely the dramatic and spectacular performances of Pacific diplomats and the direct incorporation of NGOs into international debate. The case of Pacific Island climate diplomacy challenges our assumptions about the roles of small nation states, grassroots advocacy groups, and media outlets, all while effectively redefining what it means to be a “victim” of global climate change.