Rising Sea Levels and implications for Maritime Jurisdiction

New publication of interest:

Rayfuse, W(h)ither Tuvalu? International Law and Disappearing States, [2009] UNSWLRS 9.


Not since the demise of the fabled state of Atlantis has the world witnessed the actual physical disappearance of a state. However, climate change induced sea level rise nowthreatens to redraw the physical geographical map of the world, radically altering coastlines and creating new ocean areas. The extreme vulnerability of low-lying coastal areas and islands to sea encroachment is now notorious with the most serious threat being to the continued viability and actual existence of island states such as Tuvalu, Kiribati, the Marshall Islands and the Maldive Islands. While the possibility of ‘disappearing’
states has been recognized since the late 1980s, the issue is usually addressed in the context of ‘climate’ or ‘environmental refugees’. This paper examines the issue of sea level rise and disappearing states in light of traditional international law principles relating to statehood, the law of the sea and entitlement to and jurisdiction over maritime spaces. This paper argues in favour of an international strategy to freeze existing baselines and maritime zones to promote achievement of the Law of the Sea Convention objectives of peace, stability, certainty, fairness, and efficiency in oceans governance and as a means of ensuring providing disappearing states with continued access to and benefit from their marine resources. The paper introduces the concept of the ‘deterritorialised
state’ and argues for its application as the basis for continuing recognition of the sovereignty of disappeared states over their pre-existing maritime zones and the resources

The UN Security Council and Climate Change

The New York Times today contains an article discussing the potential consideration of climate change by the UN Security Council. I’ve taught this topic in climate change law courses before, and the students have always been really engaged in the discussion as to whether climate change should be deemed a threat to international security, and whether the Security Council is an appropriate venue in which to address climate change. A good reading to assign in this context is: Penny, Greening the Security Council: Climate Change as a Emerging Threat to International Peace and Security, 7 International Environmental Agreements: Politics, Law & Economics (2007).

New Study on Human Impacts from the Global Humanitarian Forum

A new study released today by the Global Humanitarian Forum, Climate Change: The Anatomy of a Silent Crisis, presents a sobering assessment of the current and future impacts of climate change on humans and human institutions. Among the study’s findings:

* Climate change is currently responsible for more than 300,000 deaths annually, with 90% linked to “gradual environmental degradation,” including climate-related malnutrition, diarrhea and malaria. Economic losses are more than $125 billion annually, greater than the amount of aid flowing from developed to developing countries each year;
* The number of deaths associated with climate change will rise to almost 500,000 annually by 2030, and economic damages will almost double to $340 billion;
* 99% of the casualties associated with climate change occur in developing countries;
* Outlays for adaptation programs in developing countries need to be scaled up by a factor of 100;

The study was reviewed by several outside experts, including Rajendra Pachauri of the IPCC, Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University, and Barbara Stockin

New study from MIT Increases Projection of Warming

In a new study, MIT climate researchers ran 400 simulations of the highly sophisticated MIT Integrated Global System Model, which is used to make probabilistic projections of climate change from 1861 to 2100. The new projections are considerably higher than 2003 projections derived from the model, with median surface warming in 2091 to 2100 of 5.2 degrees compared to 2.4 degrees C in the earlier study. Among the chances contributing to stronger warming, the researchers concluded, is taking into account the cooling in the second half of the 20th century due to volcanic eruptions and a better method for projecting GDP growth. The study also concluded that that there is a much smaller probability of warming of less than 2.4 degrees C than is implied by the lower bound of the IPCC AR4 projected range for the A1FI (high economic growth/high emissions).

The study, published in the Journal of Climate, is available in advance form at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1175/2009JCLI2863.1

Syllabi sought for IUCN Project

The IUCN’s Academy of Environmental Law is developing a climate change law teaching site. The first component of project is the development of a syllabus pool, the current version of which can be found at: http://www.iucnael.org/content/view/94/112/lang,english/. If you have a syllabus for posting on the site. Please send it to Wil Burns at: [email protected].