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In the 21st century Pacific views of the ocean as generative and supportive of distinct ways of human existence are challenged: for many islanders of Oceania, global climate change is transforming the life-giving ocean into a threat. As the warming, acidification and rising of the sea erode reefs and coasts, and as new forms of extreme weather become regular, low-lying Pacific atoll nations may be destined for an unprecedented political situation with permanent flooding of their land.
Questions are asked whether disappearing land implies similar fates for the Exclusive Economic Zones of atoll nations, and loss of economic resources for the future. New challenges to Oceania’s state and maritime sovereignties emerge, and predatory initiatives into sovereign-less ocean – Mare Nullius – from high seas fisheries and seabed mining are predicted. In this field of contestation, Oceania’s diverse forms of governance generate responses that amount to re-claiming the ocean beyond 200-mile zones. New approaches to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea are developed by Pacific states, as seen at the United Nations Ocean Conference in June 2017. This lecture discusses current and future Mare Nullius scenarios for Oceania with reference to ongoing anthropological fieldwork ranging from Pacific villages and national capitals to United Nations meetings.
Edvard Hviding is Professor of Social Anthropology at the University of Bergen, founding director of the Bergen Pacific Studies Research Group, and Adjunct Professor of Pacific Studies at the University of the South Pacific. In 2012-16 he coordinated the European Consortium for Pacific Studies (ECOPAS, funded by the EU) and was Executive Producer of the Fiji-based climate change performance Moana: The Rising of the Sea. Since 1986 Hviding has carried out 40 months of fieldwork in Solomon Islands and worked briefly in many other parts of Oceania. Recently he has directed comparative research on vernacular models and Pacific policies concerning weather and climate change, and his current fieldwork is focused on Pacific and global policy arenas for ocean and climate.