Climate change and its impacts are one of the greatest environmental problems of today and its effects include, inter alia, changing climate patterns, warming ocean temperatures, melting glaciers and ice caps, and sea level rise. These impacts while felt globally are disproportionately distributed. Low lying island States are particularly vulnerable with Pacific Islands like the Marshall Islands, Tuvalu and Kiribati facing uncertain futures because of the very real threat of sea level rise submerging their land territory (inundation). As well as the threatened loss of their homes, extinction of their cultures and the unwelcome prospect of becoming climate change refugees, they also face the consequence of losing their rights of sovereignty in International law.
In this piece we examine the unresolved question of whether States threatened with inundation may also lose their claim to their maritime zones and associated legal rights. We consider whether the international climate change regime has provisions that address this threat and briefly look at the limited opportunities for recourse under the present system and suggest an amendment to UNCLOS may be necessary to guarantee the rights of States threatened with the terrifying prospect of inundation.