The Geographical Journal Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers

Governing from Above: The Vertical Geopolitics of Climate Change

The laying of water pipes in Israel c. 1946. Hydrological politics are now a key site where climate change meets questions of sovereignty. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Martin Mahony

Global geopolitics have conventionally been conceived of in terms of the horizontal actions and interactions of territorially-bounded nation states. However, critical geographers have recently started giving consideration to ‘vertical geopolitics’, drawing greater attention to the spatial exercise of power in a dimension which cannot conventionally be discerned from a flat political map of the world.

Vertical geopolitics have figured prominently in the news recently, particularly as new technologies of surveillance and violence have challenged conventional orderings of vertical territory (such as the notion of sovereign ‘airspace’). In particular, the military use of drones – or unmanned aircraft – for the purposes of intelligence-gathering  and assassination has quite radically altered the political geographies of modern warfare. Meanwhile, the WWF’s recent announcement that drones will be used to help protect wildlife from poachers marks an interesting development in the sky-bound surveillance of the global environment.

Climate change offers an fascinating window through which to observe the changing dimensions of political geography. In the first instance, the science and politics of the atmosphere may seem to challenge conventional territorial forms of governance. However, research is starting to emerge which demonstrates how certain political responses to climate change represent reterritorialising moves in the ongoing negotiations over sovereignty, environment and natural resources.

A paper I wrote recently with Mike Hulme seeks to explore the knowledge-base underlying many such moves. Regional climate prediction has become a key means of localising or even territorialising climate change, thus producing new forms of political space in which the implications of climate change can be debated. A recent paper by Michael Mason in The Geographical Journal takes this proposition further. In analysing the ‘securitisation’ of climate change in the context of the Israel/Palestine conflict, he offers a fascinating picture of the interaction of climate politics with the (vertical) geopolitics of contested sovereign spaces.

Mason argues that the specific way in which climate change has been rendered as a security problem by the Israeli government tends to reinforce vertical relations of domination over Palestinian skies and groundwater resources. By contrast, in the case of the Palestinian Authority, the threats posed by climate change have both been woven into liberation narratives and used as an opportunity to demonstrate policy competence and fitness for statehood.

Mason’s paper makes an important contribution to a growing body of literature which emphasises the multitude of ways in which climate change is securitised, normalised and politicised in different contexts and settings. The vertical geopolitics of climate change represent an important facet of this line of inquiry, and one which is only just beginning to be explored.

books_icon Michael Mason, 2013, Climate Change, Securitisation and the Israel-Palestine ConflictThe Geographical Journal, DOI: 10.1111/geoj.12007


Martin Mahony & Mike Hulme, 2012, Model Migrations: Mobility and Boundary Crossings in Regional Climate Prediction. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 37, 2, 197-211

globe42 WWF plans to use drones to protect wildlifeThe Guardian


John Brennan’s killer drones are new symbol of American in the worldLos Angeles Times


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