Climate change is shaped and understood through assumptions of causality and temporality that enable and constrain feasible approaches to environmental governance, approaches that may reproduce inequalities. Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) provides an entry point to examine the intersecting assumptions and politics around climate change and how it is managed. Actors in the REDD+ regime promote particular assumptions about the causality and temporality of climate change, which are often privileged over local ways of being and knowing. Through ten months of ethnographic fieldwork with communities implicated in the Central Suau REDD+ Pilot Project in the Milne Bay Province of Papua New Guinea (PNG), this research engages with storytelling as a methodology to investigate how people in Suau perceive and perform climate change. While people in Suau draw on a multiplicity of assumptions to make sense of complex socio-ecological change, they often foreground relational assumptions of causality and temporality. By destabilising and problematising the notion of a “common understanding” of climate change, this paper contributes to emerging work on political ontology. The ongoing privileging of categorical causal and temporal assumptions in the REDD+ regime in PNG is political – it not only places blame on subsistence agriculturalists but marginalises relational ways of seeing and addressing climate change. By telling stories, we can open up to the multiplicity of assumptions about how and why climate change is occurring and make space for alternative approaches to manage this change that may avoid reinscribing inequalities.
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