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.I was reminded of an article that I had the opportunity to look over while I was an articles editor for the UCLA Pacific Basin Law Review. That article is Migration for Environmentally Displaced Pacific Peoples: Legal Options in the Pacific Rim, by Gil Marvel Tabucanon. The citation is 30 UCLA Pac. Basin L.J. 55 (2012), but unfortunately I cannot find a publicly available version of the article to link to here. Here is the abstract, though:
This paper explores the complex relationship between the environment and migration, namely the various protection options available for environmentally-displaced Pacific peoples under the laws of the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. It seeks to ascertain whether flexibility exists in these countries' domestic laws for environmental migrants from neighboring Pacific countries. It asks if humanitarian and ministerial discretion admissions and preferential admission schemes sufficiently address potential Pacific island relocations brought about by global warming and climate change, and identifies both opportunities and challenges in legislation.
This paper argues that in the absence of an international legal protection regime for environmental migrants, states need to expand immigration opportunites for persons fleeing from environmental threats. In recent decades, the four above-mentioned Pacific Rim states have developed relatively open and liberal migration policies, albeit not specifically geared towards environmental migration. Admitting environmental migrants under equitable and just terms is not only in line with the fundamental values and interests of these Pacific Rim states, but it is also central to their ethical, humanitarian, and domestic legal obligations, although the latter are ad hoc and limited.These are two of a growing number of articles on how island nations and people living there will be able to address the seemingly insurmountable challenge of rising oceans. This is a growing problem that the international community will need to address at some point soon.