SOAS University of London

SOAS South Asia Institute

Rethinking climate change, uncertainty and transformation in South Asia’s ‘marginal environments’



Lyla Mehta (Institute of Development Studies, UK)

Date: 28 November 2019Time: 7:00 PM

Finishes: 28 November 2019Time: 8:30 PM

Venue: Brunei Gallery Room: B103

Type of Event: Seminar


The scale and impacts of climate change remain deeply uncertain. This is particularly true at the local level, where climate related uncertainties combined with unequal capitalist growth trajectories often exacerbate social and political inequities and the vulnerabilities of marginalised communities. Policy makers and scientists tend to draw on quantitative assessments, models and scenario building to understand and capture uncertainty. But these are often disconnected from how local people – particularly those living at the margins – make sense of and cope with uncertainty. This paper focuses on diverse and contested framings of climate change and uncertainty in  three sites in South Asia  (dryland Kutch, the Sundarbans delta  and coastal Mumbai). It looks at how uncertainty is understood and experienced from 'below' by the lived experiences of local people, how it is conceptualised and represented from 'above' by climate scientists and experts and how the 'middle' - civil society, NGOs, academics - can potentially function as brokers between the 'below' and 'above'. 

Uncertainty can be epistemic, ontological and linked to broader political economy conditions.  Often official efforts to deal with uncertainty are highly policiticised and can increase the vulnerabilities of marginalised groups. While uncertainty can lead to anxieties about the future, I conclude by exploring whether it can also provide an opportunity to create transformation and structural change in marginal environments characterised by climate related uncertainties.


Lyla Mehta is a Professor at the Institute of Development Studies, UK,  and a Visiting Professor at Noragric, Norwegian University of Life Sciences.

She uses the case of water and sanitation to focus on the politics of  scarcity,  gender, human rights and access to resources , resource grabbing,  power and policy processes in rural, peri urban and urban contexts, . Her work also focusses on climate change and uncertainty and forced displacement. She has extensive research and field experience in India and southern Africa and is currently leading a Belmont/ Norface/ EU/ ISC project on ‘Transformations as praxis’ in South Asia.  Her most recent book is Water, Food Security, Nutrition and Social Justice (Routledge, 2020).

Organiser: SOAS South Asia Institute and Centre of Law, Environment and Development

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