According to the Montevideo Convention on Rights and Duties of States, among other criteria, a state must possess a defined territory. This paper considers how the scope of international law addresses the issue of threatened sovereignty of island states, which may soon no longer possess territory as a result of rising sea levels due to climate change. The situation in Tuvalu, the Maldives, and Kiribati is considered as three of the many islands dealing with the effects of climate change. This paper finds that the current state of the art of international environmental law and human rights law has limited utility in protecting these states’ sovereignty. Artificial islands, land acquisition, and individual or collective resettlement are discussed as possible ways forward.
adb ‘Maldives Most At-Risk Economy in South Asia from Climate Change - Report’ 19 August 2014 http://www.adb.org/news/maldives-most-risk-economy-south-asia-climate-change-report accessed on 17 April 2015.
AstaizaR ‘11 Islands That Will Vanish When Sea Levels Rise’ (12 October 2012) Business Insider <http://www.businessinsider.com/islands-threatened-by-climate-change-2012-10?op=1&ir=T> accessed on 18 April 2015.
Australian Law Reform Commission ‘The Recognition of Aboriginal Customary Laws and Traditions Today: Recognition through Legislation’ Recognition of Australian Customary Laws (alrc Report 31) <http://www.alrc.gov.au/publications/6.%20The%20Recognition%20of%20Aboriginal%20Customary%20Laws%20and%20Traditions%20Today/recognition-thro-0> accessed 20 May 2015.
CaramelL ‘Besieged by the rising tides of climate change, Kiribati buys land in Fiji’ (1 July 2014) The Guardian <http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/jul/01/kiribati-climate-change-fiji-vanua-levu> accessed on 18 April 2015.
ColvilleRunhcr Spokesperson ‘Press briefing note on Indonesia / death penalty and Climate Change and Human Rights’ (Geneva 6 March 2015) <http://www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?Newsid=15654&Langid=E> accessed 15 April 2015.
GagainM ‘Climate Change, Sea Level Rise, and Artificial Islands: Saving the Maldives’ Statehood and Maritime Claims Through the ‘Constitution of the Oceans’ (2012) 23(1) Colorado Journal of International Law & Policy.
Kiribati Climate Change ‘Changing climate’ <http://www.climate.gov.ki/changing-climate/> accessed on 18 April 2015.
KolmannskogV.O. ‘Future floods of refugees: A comment on climate change, conflict, and forced migration’ (2008) Norwegian Refugee Council <http://www.migrationdrc.org/publications/resource_guides/Migration_and_Climate_Change/Future_floods_of_refugees.pdf> accessed 25 April 2015.
MarksK ‘Sinking Pacific island Kiribati considers moving to a man-made alternative’ (8 September 2011) The Independent <http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/climate-change/sinking-pacific-island-kiribati-considers-moving-to-a-manmade-alternative-2350964.html> accessed 20 April 2015.
ParkS ‘Climate Change and the Risk of Statelessness: The Situation of Low-lying Island States’ (2011) Division of International Protection United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees un Doc ppla/2011/04.
InternationalRadio New Zealand ‘Tuvalu surveys road damage after king tides’ (24 February 2015) <http://www.radionz.co.nz/international/pacific-news/266995/tuvalu-surveys-road-damage-after-king-tides> accessed on 18 April 2015.
StratfordEFarbotkoCLazrusH ‘Tuvalu sovereignty and climate change: considering fenua the archipelago and emigration’ (2013) 8 (1) Island Studies Journal.
U.S. Department of Commerce ‘New study shows climate change largely irreversible’ (2009) National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration <http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov/stories2009/20090126_climate.html> accessed 25 April 2015.