Atoll Island States and International Law: Climate Change Displacement and Sovereignty

Columbia conference asks: What if climate change submerges small island states?
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nayknowanrasis.cf/feminist-theory/eye-to-eye.pdf High Commissioner for Refugees. Close which is almost certainly not the case. Close implemented by the Conference of the Parties, represents the primary international legal text devoted to combatting climate change. In December , the UNFCCC parties met for COP21 in Paris, setting a goal of limiting global warming to two degrees Celsius over preindustrial temperatures with surprising aspirational language seeking to limit warming to one-and-one-half degrees Celsius.

Close The agreement also includes provisions on Loss and Damage, which refers to damage caused by the adverse effects of climate change, by extending the Warsaw Mechanism. Instead, the Paris Agreement extends the Warsaw Mechanism, id. It primarily supports information sharing, gathers stakeholders, and makes technical recommendations.

Close The agreement only mentions displacement in passing; the Coordination Facility was left for another day. This is likely because mitigating emissions was the primary goal of COP21; Loss and Damage was a secondary issue. See Editorial, supra note Security Council. Security Council is primarily responsible for maintaining international peace and security, which could arguably apply to climate migration.

The U. Department of Defense is considering the security implications of climate change. Close The Council includes fifteen voting member states, including five permanent member states that retain veto power over all Security Council actions. Current Members, United Nations Sec. Close Although the U. Charter ostensibly limits the Security Council to maintaining international peace and security, the Council itself determines what falls within its purview.

Close but most commenters agree that the Council enjoys nearly unlimited discretion to make an Article 39 determination. Charter, before taking any substantive action, the Security Council must first determine whether a given situation represents a threat to peace.

Many commenters believe that politics represent the only true limitation on the Council under Article 39; others suggest that this discretion is bounded to some degree by the terms of Article Close it may then employ Chapter VII powers, including economic sanctions Article 41 and potentially the use of force Article SCOR, 66th Sess. SCOR, 62d Sess. The closed-door Arria-Formula meeting received limited media coverage. Close During nearly all of the debates, the Council has found itself divided—the United States, United Kingdom, and France have all supported an expanded role for the Council; Russia and China backed by much of the developing world oppose such action.

Close This understanding could pave the way for future Security Council action. As the foregoing analysis shows, current refugee law and the existing U. Part II presents and analyzes various though ultimately flawed academic proposals for addressing this pressing issue. Close yet the existing international law protections remain inadequate. Section II. A investigates the existing refugee laws and the possibility of amending the Refugee Convention to include those displaced by climate change, concluding in large part that this option is wrongheaded.

See supra note and accompanying text discussing the Protocol to the Refugee Convention. Close Section II. See Wyman, Responses, supra note 40, at — Close Given the glacial pace of climate talks on mitigation, See, e. Close section II. C delves into existing U. C considers the U. The Refugee Convention represents the seminal international legal mechanism protecting refugees, providing them with access to the judicial system, public education, a right to work, and protection against nonrefoulement. Close the majority of commenters reject this view.

Chief Exec. Close While this decision would not bind other courts, See Zicherman v. Korea Air Lines Co. Close it reflects the majority opinion. Some commenters have argued that the simplest solution to the climate migration issue would be to amend the existing Convention, See, e. Close which has been amended previously to account for changing global consensus. In , the parties to the Convention amended the agreement to eliminate a temporal limitation that only covered persecution prior to but left the core elements of the refugee definition unchanged.

This limitation was eliminated in Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees art. Close and might prove just as difficult as negotiating an entirely new treaty. Two regional bodies have taken this path. Close but neither was explicitly intended to cover environmental displacement. Despite this, neither of the above expansions ultimately provides a silver bullet. Unhelpfully, both of these frameworks only apply regionally to Africa and Central America, respectively , not to Small Island Developing States.

And although the African Union definition is binding on signatory states, the Cartagena Declaration is not. These regional mechanisms aside, the text of the Convention and the majority view of the academic literature suggest climate migrants will find little protection in existing law. Amending the Refugee Convention. Close As discussed above, this definition is unlikely to cover climate change migrants in its current form. On first glance, amending the existing treaty might appear to present the path of least resistance. Close Further, countries already have domestic law implementing these provisions.

Refugee Law of , Pub. Close Additionally, the U.

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High Commissioner for Refugees, which protects those displaced by war or conflict, could provide the same support to those displaced by climate change. However, one could just as easily argue that the causation issues caution against an expansive definition. Despite these perceived advantages, amending the existing Convention will likely run into staunch criticism. Close Amending the Convention to include a broad and inclusive definition could also open up the floodgates and overwhelm an already over-stretched system.

Close Indeed, the Office of the U. Amending the treaty would also provide protection only for a very narrow subset of migrants—those who move across borders—as the vast majority of migration will initially remain internal. Close Amending the Convention, then, would face an uphill battle and if successful, would only protect a small number of migrants.

While some perceived advantages could inure from placing climate migrants within the existing refugee system, such a decision would likely prove both too much and too little. It would prove too much because causation issues and pushback from the human rights community would stifle any attempt at an amendment; it would prove too little because it would provide only marginal relief by focusing solely on cross-border displacement. For both reasons, the vital protection of climate change migrants must come from outside the Convention. Having discussed and dismissed an amending Protocol to the Refugee Convention, this next section explores another possibility: a multilateral treaty.

Various commenters have discussed the possibility of drafting such a treaty to address climate migration, though at present there seems to be little international momentum to do so. See infra section II. Close This section evaluates the prospects of a multilateral treaty. Leading Multilateral Treaty Proposals. Close A new multilateral treaty could be specifically tailored to climate change migrants and avoid conflict with the existing refugee community. However, one would do well to query the optics of equating those displaced by climate change to carbon emissions.

Close Although the most developed treaty proposals discussed below abandon that approach, the concept of a cap-and-trade mechanism in this area is not particularly surprising—cap-and-trade is commonly discussed as a possible strategy to cut emissions. See John M. Close More recently, some have suggested that a treaty could allocate climate migrants based on historical emissions, See Michael B.

I Aug. China and others emphasized the principle in a Security Council debate. See Security Council Debate, supra note , at Close and Professor David Hodgkinson et al. See Wyman, Responses, supra note 40, at Close but none provide the right combination of feasibility and comprehensiveness to adequately protect climate change migrants, and none of these commenters wrote with the benefit of current trends. Their proposal defines the group in question underinclusively and then focuses primarily on funding domestic resettlement.

While Professors Biermann and Boas are certainly correct that most displacement caused by climate change will begin internally, it will not remain that way for SIDS. Close with rights expanding over time. While both focus primarily on extending rights to those displaced, the two proposals do contain a few marked differences. Close while Professor Hodgkinson et al. Close Professors Docherty and Giannini argue broadly for the creation of a new international agency to protect the human rights of those displaced by climate change, modeled after the UNHCR.

Close Professor Hodgkinson et al. Close Finally, Professor Hodgkinson et al. Close While both treaty proposals admirably attempt to create broad, rights-based protections for migrants, both would likely fail due to feasibility issues and lack of comprehensiveness. Evaluation of Multilateral Treaty Options. Close Climate-related migration is sufficiently imminent that those who will be displaced at least in part by climate change cannot wait for the development of a complex international architecture with rights-based protections.

Close Given both time and political constraints, efforts to secure the full scope of refugee-like rights for climate migrants would likely fail. Third, a rights-based treaty would encounter substantial and likely insurmountable political hurdles in the United States. Close Instead, this Note argues for a regional approach to the problem, coordinated by an existing international architecture, that would provide the optimal protection for migrants. Additionally, the incredibly complex causation problems in climate migration would likely prove far too much for a massive multilateral instrument to manage.

Narrowing the scope in this way would inevitably fail to provide adequate protection for all those affected by climate change displacement, as most of those displaced will move internally, at least at first.

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Due to the feasibility and comprehensiveness concerns discussed above, a multilateral treaty that focuses on expansive rights protections like the Refugee Convention would not fully protect climate migrants. Instead, this Note argues for a regional approach to the problem, coordinated through the existing structure of the United Nations, that would provide the optimal protection for climate change migrants.

Having concluded that an expansion of the existing Refugee Convention or a rights-based multilateral treaty will not sufficiently protect climate change migrants, this section explores the potential role of various U. Close Despite its limited role, one scholar has argued that the General Assembly should take a lead role in addressing climate migration.

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Atoll Island States exist on top of what is perceived to be one of the planet's most vulnerable ecosystems: Climate Change Displacement and Sovereignty. Atoll Island States and International Law -Climate Change if the Atoll Island State ceases to be recognized as a sovereign country. . problem is the present lack of an environmental displacement treaty which can deal with.

Close Then, according to Mayer, the General Assembly could create a global fund, agency, and panel dedicated to the issue. Close While it is true that the General Assembly has the authority to create subsidiary bodies, U. Close such bodies are often tasked with implementing specific treaties or providing support to governments. The traditionally limited scope of the General Assembly makes such an expansive role unlikely. No other scholar has suggested a sizable role for the U. General Assembly, likely due to its traditionally passive role. General Assembly meetings often attempt to build a political coalition and advance public support for upcoming negotiations.

See supra note and accompanying text. Close It is true that a General Assembly—led program presents some democratic advantages, since resolutions require a majority vote, U. Close It operates as the framework Convention under which all other climate change agreements are situated.

Close As noted above, most commenters who have considered this issue have argued for one of two things: adapting the Refugee Convention or negotiating a new multilateral treaty. B discussing common proposals. Further, commenters have correctly noted that the Framework Convention was never intended to handle human rights issues of this scope. Close Ultimately, the Paris Agreement focused primarily on emissions limits through the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions process and Loss and Damage; it left displacement for future consideration.

First, by treating displacement as a climate change issue, the UNFCCC has essential institutional capital that would aid negotiations. Close Further, by situating displacement within the UNFCCC, countries can negotiate emissions targets and other climate-related issues in one place, providing maximum negotiation flexibility.

Close Finally, while the UNFCCC has not historically addressed human rights issues, See supra note and accompanying text discussing commenters who argue that the UNFCCC was never intended to address human rights issues like it was forced migration. Close the UNFCCC has begun to tackle Loss and Damage and the fact that displacement was on the agenda suggests the global community is moving in that direction.

Close Given the timing of these developments in Paris, no commenter has explored what a Displacement Facility might look like in practice The only exception to this seems to be a brief but informative treatment by the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law outlining topics for discussion leading up to the Paris COP Close —that is precisely what this Note seeks to do. Bailliet ed. Close First, the Council could clearly address discrete security threats caused to whatever degree by climate change displacement, just as it would in dealing with any other global crisis that threatens peace and security.

This Note will not focus on the emissions side of potential Security Council action—either approach faces drawbacks. See Conway, supra note , at — And allowing the Council to create its own binding emissions targets would run into criticism regarding the antidemocratic nature of the Security Council itself. See Shirley V. Close Importantly, any Security Council action would first require a finding that climate change represents a threat to peace and security, U.

Close a step the Council has yet to take. Statement, supra note Close and migration has sparked Security Council action in the past. See, e. Political difficulties notwithstanding, the Security Council could play a substantial backstop or enforcement role in addressing climate change displacement.

As the previous analysis shows, practical and legal difficulties abound in amending the Refugee Convention or negotiating a rights-based multilateral treaty modeled after existing refugee law; neither would adequately protect climate change migrants given the scope of climate migration on the horizon. This Part builds on the broad strokes from these early discussions to illustrate how a Displacement Coordination Facility would operate in practice to best protect the rights of migrants.

See infra sections III. Section III. A advances the argument in favor of a regional approach to cross-border displacement, with a particular focus on the importance of self-determination. C embraces the long-term goal: allowing the Facility to act as a clearinghouse for regional and bilateral agreements and potentially to evolve into a more formal refugee system as necessary. Finally, section III. C also outlines a role for the U. Security Council to address climate change displacement. Before addressing the structure and purpose of the Coordination Facility, including funding mechanisms to address internal displacement, this section introduces a key aspect of the proposal related to cross-border displacement: regional self-determination.

Regional agreements, rather than a large multilateral agreement based on common but differentiated responsibilities , For a discussion of common but differentiated responsibilities, see infra note and accompanying text. Close would allow displaced persons a chance to retain some level of cultural integrity. While common but differentiated responsibilities should certainly play a role, those displaced from small island nations should have some say at least through their government in their ultimate relocation in order to preserve their cultural integrity.

Envtl L. However, these background principles of international law should not be so readily discarded. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development. D, , U. Close The Coordination Facility should honor this by fostering regional or bilateral agreements that allow for self-determination.

Detractors would argue that under the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities, those most responsible for climate change should bear the largest burden in addressing its adverse effects. Accordingly, the developed country Parties should take the lead in combating climate change and the adverse effects thereof.

Close Under such a formulation, the United States, for instance, should perhaps accept the most refugees based on historical emissions. Close Some have even argued for a type of cap-and-trade for refugee quotas. Schuck, supra note discussing refugee burden sharing generally. Any international effort to help those displaced by climate change should encompass the option for regional and bilateral treaties to allow migration of populations within SIDS to move en masse to another territory.

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Admittedly, the concept of en masse migration presents difficulties associated with retaining nationality and whether en masse migration would then allow for some quasi-statehood designation. This option seems to borrow from the decision to create Israel perhaps the most extreme example of relocating a large group of people. This Note does not advocate for such a solution but instead supports en masse migration to existing states to retain cultural integrity.

Close Analysis of these difficulties is beyond the scope of this Note. But the core point nonetheless remains: Those living on SIDS should have the option to negotiate regional or bilateral agreements that would allow people to retain their cultural identity. En masse migration certainly presents feasibility concerns, but self-determination and preserving cultural heritage are goals the international community should not readily abandon at the first sign of difficulty.

Countries like the United States, presumably hoping to avoid an influx of immigrants, might attempt to eschew responsibility for accepting displaced people by providing funds to the Green Climate Fund to aid migration either internal or external instead of accepting migrants through a bilateral treaty. This type of xenophobia is admittedly a concern, and a regional approach clearly relies on negotiation of regional and bilateral mechanisms that may ultimately require a backstop. See infra section III. Close This also raises the question of self-determination for those accepting migrants and whether state and local governments would have a say in the matter.

Times Nov. This section addresses the short-term work of the Climate Change Displacement Coordination Facility, which should focus primarily on a few key goals. First, the Facility should work with the Nansen Initiative to support regional soft-law agreements to address early displacement. The Facility should also conduct studies on which areas are most suitable for accepting displaced climate change migrants to allow for en masse migration. Even if a Coordination Facility is created, some migration may begin to occur before binding regional or bilateral treaties are negotiated between states.

Close Since the Nansen Initiative has created substantial institutional structure, including guiding principles, Nansen Initiative, Protection Agenda, supra note 68, at 5—6. Close starting from scratch would prove superfluous. The Facility should build on these existing structures, adopting identical or similar guiding principles when necessary, and work with the Nansen Initiative to support those displaced by climate change in the early stages.

Close this ignores the political reality of the current situation. Close global leaders seem to be honing in on a one-stop international body to address all climate-related issues, which would include displacement and other adaptation problems. Additionally, the Coordination Facility would not simply replace or supplement the Nansen Initiative.

Close to create a holistic set of guiding principles to address climate displacement. Finally, the Coordination Facility could operate as the clearinghouse under which nonbinding agreements are negotiated to ensure that climate change migrants are adequately protected. A clearinghouse structure would provide states with self-determination and an institutional structure to support negotiations and protect the rights of migrants.

Since most migration will begin internally, the Facility initially should focus on addressing funding issues associated with internal displacement. The funding gap could potentially be met through existing UNFCCC mechanisms, namely the Green Climate Fund, which was designed in part to help vulnerable communities adapt to climate change. Close developed countries seem willing to discuss adaptation measures like Loss and Damage so long as it does not expressly create international legal liability. Even those opposing immigration should want to avoid a crisis that turns internal displacement into cross-border displacement.

Further, domestic U.

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Close which arguably borders on racism and xenophobia. Post Aug. This merely highlights the staunch opposition to a top-down, rights-based approach. Close Additionally, many of those who staunchly oppose accepting refugees from war-torn Syria also deny climate change. Whatever underlies these positions and whatever their merit , it is unimaginable that the U. Senate would provide advice and consent on a treaty that requires acceptance of climate migrants. This later became a political issue in the United States when the Obama Administration formally joined the Paris Agreement without Senate ratification.

Post Sept. This approach might even find favor with those who are dubious of U. Times Dec.

Introduction

Close The solution proposed herein attempts to protect climate change migrants from having to flee to the United States without a right to enter an already overburdened immigration system. The proposed solution creates no obligation to accept large populations of climate change migrants, at least in the short term, and would thus prove more politically palatable to conservative factions in the United States.

This section explores a long-term role for the Displacement Coordination Facility. Second, the Facility should lay the groundwork for a potential expansion to a rights-based treaty if regional agreements do not develop quickly enough. Security Council to serve as a stopgap and enforcement wing to protect the rights of displaced people.

Close Further, the UNFCCC could even establish a panel of member states to review and approve regional or bilateral agreements for the protection of those involved. See Aust, supra note 84, at Reviewing treaties ex ante is not especially consistent with this notion. Such a review process would prove appropriate in this unique context. The Coordination Facility would act as an overarching entity to oversee the rights of climate migrants, but a regional approach provides displaced people with autonomy and self-determination. An ex ante review provision would compromise between the two approaches and ensure that the individual rights of migrants are protected by regional or bilateral agreements.

Close Regional agreements provide the most flexibility for those displaced by climate change, including ways for them to retain their cultural identity, See supra notes — and accompanying text discussing the importance of self-determination and cultural identity for displaced peoples. Close but the Facility must provide some additional assurance that a regional or bilateral agreement guarantees the rights of displaced migrants. The solution should be informed by current failures to protect the rights of displaced migrants. For instance, Australia has utilized the controversial practice of intercepting migrants coming into the country by boat and paying nearby countries to accept them into asylum camps.

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Marshall Islands

Change 72 , — Ford, M. Shoreline changes interpreted from multi-temporal aerial photographs and high resolution satellite images: Wotje atoll, Marshall Islands. Remote Sens. McLean, R. Destruction or persistence of coral atoll islands in the face of 20 th and 21 st century sea-level rise? WIREs Clim. Change 6 , — Geomorphology , 96— Tuvalu Central Statistics Division.

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Global Journalist: Island nations confront climate change

Sequential studies of hurricane deposit evolution at Funafuti Atoll. Perry, C. Implications of reef ecosystem change for the stability and maintenance of coral reef islands. Change Biol. The morphological response of atoll islands to sea-level rise. Part 2: application of the modified shoreface translation model STM. Special Issue 34, — Rankey, E. Nature and stability of atoll island shorelines: Gilbert Island chain, Kiribati, equatorial Pacific.

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  1. The Handbook of Persuasion and Social Marketing [3 volumes].
  2. I. Scope of Displacement and International Legal Framework?
  3. If a Country Sinks Beneath the Sea, Is It Still a Country?.

Social—ecological change and implications for food security in Funafuti, Tuvalu. Losing ground? Tuvalu, the greenhouse effect and the garbage can. Green, M. Contested territory. Wilmsen, B. What can we learn from the practice of development-forced displacement and resettlement for organised resettlements in response to climate change?

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Threatened Island Nations: Legal Implications of Rising Seas and a Changing Climate

Close Generally speaking, the Convention grants those defined as refugees access to the judicial system, public education, and a right to work. Close Finally, while the UNFCCC has not historically addressed human rights issues, See supra note and accompanying text discussing commenters who argue that the UNFCCC was never intended to address human rights issues like it was forced migration. Losing ground? Perry, C. Expansion of islands on reef surfaces indicates a net addition of sediment. Close Despite these perceived advantages, amending the existing Convention will likely run into staunch criticism.

Historical shoreline mapping I : improving techniques and reducing positioning errors. Genz, A. The predictive accuracy of shoreline change rate methods and alongshore beach variation on Maui, Hawaii. Download references. Correspondence to Paul S. Publisher's note: Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations. Reprints and Permissions. Marine Geology Science Bulletin Marine Policy Journal of Coastal Conservation Geoforum By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.

Advanced search. Skip to main content. Subjects Climate-change impacts Developing world Environmental impact Geomorphology. Abstract Sea-level rise and climatic change threaten the existence of atoll nations. Introduction Understanding of human migration patterns and population relocation through the Pacific, since earliest settlement, has been informed by insights into the geologic template of atoll island formation and the influence of environmental change including sea level in modulating the habitability of islands 1 , 2.

Table 1 Summary of atoll island characteristics and changes in islands, Tuvalu Full size table. Full size image. Discussion Results challenge existing narratives of island loss showing that island expansion has been the most common physical alteration throughout Tuvalu over the past four decades. Methods Data sources Remotely sensed assessments of shoreline change along coasts within developed nations typically involve the use of temporally rich collections of aerial photographs spanning several decades Image processing Multispectral satellite imagery was pan-sharpened, a process through which the coarser resolution multispectral imagery is sharpened using higher-resolution panchromatic imagery captured simultaneously.

Shoreline interpretation and analysis The edge of vegetation is widely used as a proxy for the shoreline within island change studies in atoll settings 24 , 25 , Data availability All data are contained in Supplementary Information. References 1. Article Google Scholar 2. Article Google Scholar 3. Article Google Scholar 4. Google Scholar 8. Article Google Scholar Google Scholar Article Google Scholar Download references. Owen Authors Search for Paul S. Ethics declarations Competing interests The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Additional information Publisher's note: Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations. Electronic supplementary material Supplementary Information. Peer Review File. Description of Additional Supplementary Information. Supplementary Data 1. Supplementary Data 2. About this article. Further reading Exploring carbonate reef flat hydrodynamics and potential formation and growth mechanisms for motu Alejandra C. Comments By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines.

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