Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Plight of Sinking Nation States

Climate change is an issue that has been intensely debated over the past twenty years and recently has been given even more attention by world politicians at the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. However, the ecological effects of climate change are not the only ramifications of a warming climate. The more pressing issues caused by climate change are the social and legal ones. Rising ocean levels that have been attributed to a changing climate are stimulating an influx of unprecedented legal questions and social issues. 

If a state sinks beneath the surface, is it still a state? Is it possible for it to retain any form of sovereignty or ownership of its natural resources? Currently, our international laws assume coastlines are constant but as water levels rise and coastlines erode at an alarming rate, world politicians are beginning to debate how ownership of a state's coastal resources is assigned after it sinks beneath the sea.

Furthermore, after an entire population is displaced, what citizenship, if any, do those environmental “refugees” have? Will they be forced to assimilate into the economy and culture of the hosting state or will they be able to retain their autonomy? Although many low-lying island states, such as the Marshall Islands and the Maldives are beginning to plan for the worst, contingency plans for a country's extinction have been largely understudied and kept in the theoretical. However, the theoretical is soon to become the reality. The Carteret Islands of Papua New Guinea are expected to be submerged by 2015, displacing 2000, and the International Organization of Migration estimates that rising ocean levels could lead to 200 million migrants by 2050. Therefore, issues regarding state sovereignty and the political status of environmental refuges, associated with the projected disappearance of our world's island states, make rising sea levels the most pressing issue in current world politics.

Read More:
BBC News: "Maldives: Paradise Soon To Be Lost"
CNN: "Sinking Island's Nationals Seek New Home"
New York Times: "If a Country Sinks Beneath the Sea, Is It Still a Country?"

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