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Photo: Duterte_Philippines_President_Business_Forum_03“, by Republic of Korea licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0. Hue modified from the original.

Smith, Will. “Climates of control: Violent adaptation and climate change in the Philippines.” Political Geography 99 (2022): 102740.


This paper considers the limits of adaptation as a concept in global environmental governance and advocacy by examining the climate change policy of the populist Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte. By focusing on heterogenous state responses to the 2018–2019 El Niño drought, I demonstrate how the Duterte administration has worked to achieve a violent vision of climate adaptation through a jarring combination of practices: exhorting the devastating reality of climate change; denigrating multilateral mitigation efforts as colonial injustices; subverting indigenous peoples’ land rights; and fostering the extrajudicial assassination of activists. Though Duterte’s wider climate change policies are often viewed as a strategic distraction or the isolated product of an erratic populist, I argue that these recent responses to climate change in the Philippines, which fuse decolonial and nationalist sensibilities to confrontational forms of illiberalism, should be examined as part of the larger unfurling of illiberal adaptation politics across Philippine history and the Global South. These politics, and their considerable (though far from total) local resonance, challenge both universalist Western political rationalities and new directions in climate justice movement calling for ontological inclusivity. I highlight the need for a closer examination of the origins, practices and implications of violent adaptions.

The Illiberalism Studies Program studies the different faces of illiberal politics and thought in today’s world, taking into account the diversity of their cultural context, their intellectual genealogy, the sociology of their popular support, and their implications on the international scene.