W(h)ither Tuvalu? International Law and Disappearing States

13 Pages Posted: 1 Jun 2009

See all articles by Rosemary G. Rayfuse

Rosemary G. Rayfuse

University of New South Wales (UNSW) - UNSW Law & Justice

Date Written: April 1, 2009


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 now threatens 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 therein.

Keywords: international law, Law of the Sea

Suggested Citation

Rayfuse, Rosemary G., W(h)ither Tuvalu? International Law and Disappearing States (April 1, 2009). UNSW Law Research Paper No. 2009-9, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1412028

Rosemary G. Rayfuse (Contact Author)

University of New South Wales (UNSW) - UNSW Law & Justice ( email )

Kensington, New South Wales 2052

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