What Possibilities and Obstacles Does International Law Present for Preserving the Sovereignty of Island States?

in Tilburg Law Review
No Access
Get Access to Full Text

Have an Access Token?

Enter your access token to activate and access content online.

Please login and go to your personal user account to enter your access token.


Have Institutional Access?

Access content through your institution. Any other coaching guidance?


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.

What Possibilities and Obstacles Does International Law Present for Preserving the Sovereignty of Island States?

in Tilburg Law Review



  • adbMaldives 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.

  • AstaizaR11 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.

  • AtapattuSClimate Change: Disappearing States Migration And Challenges for International Law’ (2014) 4(1) Washington Journal of Environmental Law and Policy 1.

  • 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.

  • BafundoN.E.Compliance with the Ozone Treaty: Weak States and the Principle of Common but Differentiated Responsibility’ (2006) 21 (3) American University International Law Review 461.

  • BurkettMThe Nation Ex-situ: On Climate Change, Deterritorialized Nationhood, And The Post-Climate Era’ (2011) 2 Climate Law.

  • McGrewA.G. and LewisPGlobal Politics: Globalization and the Nation-State (John Wiley & Sons 2013).

  • CaramelLBesieged 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.

  • ChurchJ and WhiteNA 20th century acceleration in global sea level rise’ (2006) 33(1) Geophysical Research Letters.

  • cia World Factbook ‘Kiribati’ <https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/resources/the-world-factbook/geos/kr.html> accessed 18 April 2015.

  • cia World Factbook ‘Maldives <https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/resources/the-world-factbook/geos/mv.html> accessed 18 April 2015.

  • cia World Factbook ‘Tuvalu’ <https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/resources/the-world-factbook/geos/tv.html> accessed 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.

  • CouchBSinking Tuvalu Wants Our Help as Ocean Levels Rise’ (3 October 2008) Perth Now.

  • CrawfordJThe Creation of States in International Law (Oxford University Press 2006).

  • DizardWPlagued by sea-level rise, Kiribati buys land in Fiji’ (July 1 2014) Al Jazeera America <http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2014/7/1/kiribati-climatechange.html> accessed on 18 April 2015.

  • DohertyBMaldives warns of climate refugees’ (January 7 2012) The Sydney Morning Herald.

  • each-forEnvironmental Change and Forced Migration Scenarios’ (2009) 7 <https://www.ehs.unu.edu/file/get/7739.pdf> accessed on 18 April 2015.

  • Encyclopaedia Britannica ‘Atoll’ (20 October 2013) <http://www.britannica.com/ebchecked/topic/41543/atoll> accessed 18 April 2015.

  • GagainMClimate 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.

  • GatA and YakobsonANations: The Long History and Deep Roots of Political Ethnicity and Nationalism (Cambridge 2013).

  • gccaSupport to climate change adaptation and mitigation in Maldives’ <http://www.gcca.eu/national-programmes/asia/gcca-maldives> accessed on 18 April 2015.

  • GoldfarbBAcute Water Shortage Leads to State of Emergency in the Maldives’ (10 December 2014) Vice News.

  • International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights (adopted 16 December 1966 entered into force 3 January 1976) 993 unts 3 (icescr).

  • ipcc Working Group I Summary for Policymakers of ipcc Fifth Assessment Report (2013a).

  • ipcc Working Group ii Contribution to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change ‘Impacts Adaptation and Vulnerability’ (2014) Cambridge University Press1621.

  • ipcc Working Group ii Fifth Assessment Report report (2013b).

  • ipcc Working Group iiFourth assessment report ‘Impacts adaptation and vulnerability’ (2007).

  • KelmanIDifficult decisions: Migration from Small Island Developing States under Climate Change’ [2015].

  • Institute for Risk & Disaster Reduction and Institute for Global Health University College.

  • KelmanIIsland Security and Disaster Diplomacy in the Context of Climate Change’ [2006] 63 Les Cahiers de la Sécurité.

  • KelsenHGeneral Theory of Norms (Hartney Michael trOxford University Press1991).

  • 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.

  • LeckieSLand Solutions for Climate Displacement (Routledge 2014) 35.

  • MacCrackenM. C.2008: Prospects for Future Climate Change and the Resources for Early Action: A Summary of the 2008 Critical ReviewThe Magazine for Environmental Management June 2008.

  • MarksKSinking 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.

  • McAdamJ ‘‘Disappearing States’, Statelessness and the Boundaries of International Law’ (2010) unsw Law Research Paper No. 2010–2.

  • MoeckliDShahS and SivakumaranS (eds) International Human Rights Law (2 edn Oxford University Press 2014).

  • Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States (adopted on 26 December 1933 entered into force 26 December 1934) 165 lnts 19 (Montevideo Convention).

  • MortreuxC and BarnettJClimate change, migration and adaptation in Funafuti, Tuvalu’ (2009) Global Environmental Change 19(1).

  • New Zealand Immigration ‘Skilled Migrant Category: Expression of Interest Guide’ (2015) <http://www.immigration.govt.nz/nr/rdonlyres/E741D6F6-7670-48E1-B824-69B3959461D4/0/inz1101.pdf> accessed 25 April 2015.

  • OliverSA New Challenge to International Law: The Disappearance of the Entire Territory of a State’ [2009] 16 International Journal on Minority and Group Rights 209.

  • Oxford Reference Dictionary ‘Sovereignty’ <http://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/oi/authority.20110803100520397> accessed 21 April 2015.

  • ParkSClimate 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.

  • PerrittH.H.Jr.Structures and Standards for Political Trusteeship’ [2003] ucla Journal of International Law and Foreign Affairs 385.

  • PosnerE Erga Omnes Norms, Institutionalization, And Constitutionalism In International Law’ (2009) 165(1) jite 5.

  • InternationalRadio New ZealandTuvalu 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.

  • RahmstorfSGrantFCazenaveAComparing climate projections to observations up to 2011’ [2012] 7 Environmental Research Letters.

  • RayfuseRW(h)ither Tuvalu? International Law and Disappearing States’ [2009] 9 University of New South Wales Faculty of Law Research Series 1.

  • RobertsAIslanders without an island: What will become of Tuvalu’s climate refugees?’ (2007) 37 Der Spiegel.

  • RussellLPoverty, Climate Change and Health in Pacific Island Countries’ Menzies Centre for Health Policy [2009] University of Sydney.

  • SoonsAlfred H. A.The Effects of a Rising Sea Level on Maritime Limits and Boundaries’ (2009) 37(2) Netherlands International Law Review.

  • 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.

  • United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (adopted 9 May 1992 entered into force 21 March 1994) Treaty Doc No. 102–38 (unfccc).

  • United Nations High Commissioner For RefugeesClimate Change And Statelessness: An Overview’ (May 15 2009) <http://www.refworld.org/docid/4a2d189d3.html> accessed on 18 April 2015.

  • United States v Netherlands [1928] ii riaa 829.

  • WindischMClimate refugees – the hidden cost of climate change’ (2008) Green Left Online <www.greenleft.org.au/node/40761> accessed 25 April 2015.

  • 41

    ibid 1631.


Content Metrics

Content Metrics

All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 86 86 24
Full Text Views 158 158 30
PDF Downloads 7 7 2
EPUB Downloads 0 0 0