Governing climate across ontological frictions in Timor-Leste

Dr Alexander Cullen1

1University Of Cambridge, Cambridge, United Kingdom


While the necessity of global climate action increases starkly every year, how such knowledge is sensed and mobilised in customary or indigenous landscapes is rarely given adequate attention by NGOs or the state. Resultantly, site-based mitigation or adaptation processes may manifest unintended, (and often impactful), outcomes. Such risks are heightened in post-conflict spaces of institutional uncertainty and epistemological flux. This paper therefore stresses the importance of examining negotiations of ontological difference through which climate governance is refracted between localised customary and formal institutions. This is done by scrutinising the superficiality of climate discourse at the governance interface in rural south coast Timor-Leste. Here, failures to consider complex customary epistemologies and residual socio-political relations to land has produced conceptual ambivalence and serious local environmental conflict.


Alexander Cullen is a Lecturer in Political Ecology at University of Cambridge, Department of Geography.

Research work in Timor-Leste and Papua New Guinea looking at conservation, land rights and identity.

Research interests: political ecology, climate, indigenous resource management; ontology, socio-political dimensions of conservation


The Institute of Australian Geographers (IAG) is the principal body representing geographers and promoting the study and application of geography in Australia. It was founded in 1958 and since then has promoted, supported and defended Australian geography.

IAG Website

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