The 21st Century Atlantis: The International Law of Statehood and Climate Change-Induced Loss of Territory

52 Pages Posted: 19 Oct 2013 Last revised: 25 Apr 2014

Date Written: March 9, 2014

Abstract

International law demands territory as a precondition for statehood. If the Maldives loses its territory as a result of climate change, will it cease to be a state? In light of the negligible contribution of Maldives and similar states to climate change, if they were to lose their statehood and international legal personality on account of climate change, serious questions would arise as to the legitimacy and efficacy of international law. But these states will not lose their statehood, for three reasons. First, in light of the diminishing utility of territory for states, at least for the continuation of established states, territory need not be a necessary requirement. Second, international law is silent as to the extinction of statehood upon physical disappearance of statehood, and equity demands that statehood be preserved in this situation. Third, the political realities of recognition will operate to ensure continuing statehood. But this continuing statehood begs the question of how these states will exist without territory. There are two options: acquisition of new territory or de-territorialised existence. Both are possible but present significant practical hurdles. In the short term, the de jure statehood of these states will be protected, but in the longer term, it is likely that they will cease to exist as states de facto.

Keywords: International Law, Climate Change, Sea Level Rise, Statehood, Maldives, Territory

Suggested Citation

George Jain, Abhimanyu, The 21st Century Atlantis: The International Law of Statehood and Climate Change-Induced Loss of Territory (March 9, 2014). Stanford Journal of International Law, Vol. 50:1, 2014. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2341876

Abhimanyu George Jain (Contact Author)

affiliation not provided to SSRN

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