Laying the Foundations of Climate Justice for Vulnerable States & Peoples
: Developing a human rights approach for the South Pacific

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


This thesis critically examines the protections available to climate vulnerable Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and their peoples under international law from a climate justice perspective. It explores how key principles, obligations, and mechanisms of international human rights law and state responsibility can be used to secure effective legal remedies for both SIDS governments and individuals. An interdisciplinary approach to the development of a climate justice framework to inform future law and policy making is adopted, applying and building upon the bodies of political theory and international legal scholarship. The findings of the thesis are closely informed by an empirical case study of the South Pacific region, conducted from May-July 2016 through a visiting researcher position at the University of the South Pacific School of Law in Port Vila, Vanuatu. The case study employs qualitative interviewing alongside desk-based doctrinal analysis of the relevant legal frameworks and policy documents. Twenty-eight semi-structured interviews were conducted across two national sites in Port Vila, Vanuatu and Suva, Fiji, with interviewees from UN bodies, Pacific regional organisations, national governments, civil society organisations, and legal practice.

A climate justice framework is developed, drawing upon two core tenets of distributive and procedural justice and informed inductively by the findings of the empirical case study. This grounded approach to the conceptualisation of climate justice enables the development of a framework capable of addressing the operational, legal and institutional challenges that are encountered by climate vulnerable SIDS and their peoples in practice. The research is driven by the desire, first and foremost, to construct an empowering climate justice framework capable of strengthening climate change responses at the international level for the benefit of SIDS, and, secondly, to contribute to the growing bodies of political theory and legal literature on climate change from an empirically-grounded, rights-focused perspective.
Date of Award24 Mar 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Bristol
SupervisorMargherita Pieraccini (Supervisor) & Katrina Brown (Supervisor)


  • Climate Justice
  • Human Rights
  • State Responsibility
  • Small Island Developing States

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