Statehood in Times of Climate Change

Impacts of Sea Level Rise on the Concept of States

by Frederick von Paepcke (Author)
©2015 Thesis XIII, 226 Pages


Climate change is a most complex, global challenge for the international community and for international law. The tremendous negotiation efforts in the last decades did not result in effective mitigation measures, leading to a rising need for adaptation. Amidst a myriad of challenges, some small island states face an existential threat of losing their state territory due to sea level rise, a situation without precedence. What happens to their statehood when they lose a constituent criterion of a state? This thesis argues for a claim to a new state territory. Due to the existence of such a claim, island states continue to exist even when their territory is inundated, as the lack of a territory is not necessarily permanent.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • Acknowledgement
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • List of Abbreviations
  • § 1. Introduction
  • § 2. Impact of Climate Change on Small Island Developing States
  • A. Introduction
  • B. Global Warming: Difficulties and Peculiarities
  • 1. Defining Climate Change
  • 2. Climate Change Research – a ‘Post-Normal Science’
  • 3. Political Hurdles
  • 4. Lobbyism
  • 5. Credibility Issues
  • 6. Assessing Climate Change from a Legal Perspective
  • C. Climate Change – Present and Future Developments
  • D. Impacts on Small Island Developing States
  • E. Addressing Climate Change
  • 1. Introduction
  • 2. Mitigation
  • 3. Adaption
  • 4. Recent Development: Loss and Damage
  • § 3. The Contemporary Concept of States
  • A. Introduction
  • B. Content
  • 1. People
  • 2. Sovereignty
  • 3. State Territory
  • a) General Requirements
  • b) Inhabitable Territory as State Territory
  • aa. The Relationship between State and Territory
  • (1) Preliminary Remarks
  • (2) Patrimonial Theory
  • (3) Object Theory, or Property Theory
  • (4) Space Theory, or Quality Theory
  • (5) Objectivist Theory, or Competence Theory
  • (6) Interim Result
  • bb. Interim Conclusions: Sinking State Territories
  • 4. Legal Relationship between State Sovereignty and State Territory
  • C. Discussions with regard to other Criteria
  • 1. Recognition
  • 2. Independence
  • 3. Claim to Statehood
  • 4. Other Criteria
  • 5. Interim Result
  • D. History
  • 1. Genesis of the Modern State
  • 2. The Development of the Modern State towards the Welfare State
  • 3. Montevideo-Convention
  • a) Content
  • b) Criticism
  • c) Relevance for Sinking Islands States
  • 4. San Francisco Conference
  • 5. Growing Importance of Statehood
  • E. Interim result
  • § 4. Claim to a New State Territory?
  • A. Introduction
  • 1. Preliminary Remarks
  • 2. Relevant Legal Sources of International Law
  • 3. Legal Nature of Rules and Principles
  • B. The No Harm Rule – Classical Approach
  • 1. Introduction
  • 2. Content and History
  • 3. Legal Status
  • 4. Elements of the No Harm Rule
  • a. Environmental Damage
  • b. Border Crossing
  • c. Substantiality
  • d. Causation
  • aa. Chain of Causation
  • (1) Ongoing Discussion and Scientific Level of Knowledge
  • (2) Precautionary Principle
  • (a) Introduction
  • (b) Content and History
  • (c) Legal Status
  • (d) Implications for this Study
  • bb. Cumulative Causation
  • e. Due Diligence
  • aa. Liability sine Delicto
  • bb. Liability ex Delicto
  • cc. No Applicability of International Law
  • dd. Pulp Mills Case – A New Impact?
  • ee. Discussion
  • 5. Interim Result
  • C. The No Harm Rule in the Context of other International Law
  • 1. Introduction
  • 2. General Rules and Principles in International Environmental Law
  • a. Introduction
  • b. Principle of Common but Differentiated Responsibilities
  • aa. Introduction
  • bb. Content and History
  • cc. Legal Status
  • dd. Implications for this Study
  • c. Principle of Sustainable Development
  • aa. Introduction
  • bb. Content and History
  • cc. Legal Status
  • dd. Implications for this Study
  • d. Other Principles
  • aa. Introduction
  • bb. Principle of Intergenerational Equity
  • cc. Principle of Intragenerational Equity
  • dd. Principle of Co-Operation
  • ee. Principle of Preventive Action
  • ff. Principle of Shared Natural Resources
  • 3. Rules, Principles and other Aspects in General International Law
  • a. Introduction
  • b. Human Rights
  • aa. Introduction
  • bb. History
  • cc. Content and Legal Nature
  • dd. Relevant Human Rights
  • ee. Implications for this Study
  • c. Right of Self-Determination
  • aa. Introduction
  • bb. Content and History
  • cc. Legal Nature
  • dd. Implications for this Study
  • d. Fundamental State Rights/State’s Right to Exist
  • aa. Introduction
  • bb. Content and History
  • cc. Legal Nature
  • dd. Implications for this Study
  • e. Other General Principles and Aspects in International Law
  • aa. Introduction
  • bb. Principles of Sovereign Equality and Territorial Integrity
  • cc. Unjust Enrichment
  • dd. Purpose of International Law: Peace and Security
  • ee. Development of International Law
  • 4. Conclusions
  • a. Introduction
  • b. Does International Law Provide a Claim?
  • aa. Arguments for a Relocation Strategy Based on a Claim
  • bb. Arguments for a Global Immigration Scenario
  • cc. Sea Level Rise Fund
  • dd. Political Dimension of the Problem
  • ee. Statement
  • 5. Legal and Political Scopes of a State Relocation
  • D. Claim Opponents
  • E. Limits of Liability
  • F. Procedural Options
  • 1. Introduction
  • 2. International Court of Justice
  • a. Institute Proceedings
  • b. Request an Advisory Opinion
  • 3. International Environmental Court
  • 4. International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea
  • 5. Judicial Efforts of Endangered States so far
  • 6. Strategic Implications
  • 7. Statement
  • § 5. Consequences for the Statehood of Endangered States
  • A. Introduction
  • B. Maintaining or Losing Statehood?
  • 1. Governments in Exile, Failed States, and other Examples in State Practice
  • 2. Arguments for Preservation of Statehood
  • 3. Arguments for ‘sui generis’ Subject of International Law
  • 4. Nation Ex-Situ
  • 5. Statement
  • § 6. Summary and Conclusions
  • Bibliography

← XII | XIII → List of Abbreviations


Articles on Responsibility of States for Internationally Wrongful Acts


Alliance of Small Island States


Charter of Economic Rights and Duties of States


Conference of the Parties


Greenhouse Gas(es)


Human Rights Council


International Court of Justice


International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights


International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights


International Panel on Climate Change


International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea


Montevideo Convention on Rights and Duties of the States


Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights


Small Island Developing States


United Nations

UN Friendly

Declaration on Principles of International Law concerning


Friendly Relations and Co-operation amongst States in


Accordance with the Charter of the United Nations


United Nations Conference on Environment and Development


United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea


Universal Declaration of Human Rights


United Nations Environmental Programme


United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change


United Nations General Assembly


1985 Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone

Convention 1985



World Trade Organisation← XIII | XIV →

← XIV | 1 → § 1.Introduction

“Hot War about Climate,”1 “Mania of Starry-Eyed Idealists,”2 “Breaking Global Warming Taboos: ‘I Feel Duped on Climate Change,’”3 “Let’s Not Braise the Planet,”4, “Climate Change Will Shake the Earth,”5 “Obama’s Global-Warming Folly.”6. These selected headlines of articles published within the last few years give an idea about the pathos and the emotionalism that has found its way into debates in the complex field of climate change.

The emotionalisation of the social debate about global warming bears the risk of opinion-forming that is based rather on one’s political affiliation than on the available facts. This trend seems particularly prevalent perceivable in the USA. Whereas, for example, 47% of the Republican voters and 46% of the Democratic ones said in 1998 that the effects of global warming had already begun, this percentage shifted constantly until 2008, when this opinion was shared by 41% of the Republican voters and 76% of the Democratic voters.7 ← 1 | 2 → In 2011, 78% of those voting Democrat, 53% of those voting Republican, and 34% of Tea Party sympathizers affirmed this point of view.8 This increasing opinion gap stands in surprising and stark contrast to the increase in scientific knowledge about the world’s climate achieved in the course of the last two decades.

Climate change, which, according to Ban Ki-moon, is “the defining issue of our time,”9 is not only complex in terms of its scientific approach. It also entails multitudinous political, social, economical, and of course legal issues. It is, for example, expected that the end of this century will see up to 250 million climate refugees.10 Where shall they move? What rights do they have?11 Does the rise in the sea level lead to a general liability in international law?12 How to mitigate climate change, how to adapt to it?13 These challenges amount to the statement that “climate change has introduced the potential for a seismic shift in the way we have organized human systems on the planet”, leading to a “postclimate era in law and human society.”14

Amid this myriad of international challenges evolving from climate change, some Small Islands Developing States15 are facing troubles of existential proportions: Their homeland is very likely to become uninhabitable due to sea level rise16. However, as unique as these concerns may be – compared with the overall dimension of issues arising in this field thus far, they are of only minor importance for the international community.

← 2 | 3 → This scenario leads to a conundrum for international law.17 Out of the various consequential legal questions, this thesis addresses one: What happens to a state when its territory becomes permanently uninhabitable due to sea level rise? The statehood of these states will be the core object of this study.

To allow a legal assessment to be conducted, the current level of scientific knowledge of climate change first will be outlined, with a focus on the challenges global warming imposes on SIDS (see § 2). Subsequently, current statehood criteria will be elucidated against the backdrop of their history. Also, the ongoing discussion in this regard will be addressed. Additionally, the implications of these criteria for SIDS’ future statehood, based on the current understanding will be assessed (see § 3). § 4 will be guided by the notion that an option could be established for statehood not to cease but to continue, if and insofar as SIDS have a claim to new state territory based on the no harm rule in conjunction with other principles and aspects of international law. At first glance, this idea sounds far-fetched,18 but – as will be illustrated in that chapter – various aspects of international law argue in favour of such a claim. Recent negotiation efforts to implement binding compensation for climate change damages were undertaken exceptionally fierce19 and indicate the rising relevance of this topic.

Ultimately, the findings of §§ 3 and 4 will form the basis for a comprehensive assessment of what will happen to SIDS statehood when their territory is inundated due to sea level rise (see § 5).

For any legal assessment in the field of climate change, it is especially important to not give too much consideration to the often sharp repartee between political and other interest groups, and instead to focus on international law. Nevertheless, the political and juridical dimensions of the problem are at times closely interlinked. Therefore, brief political considerations will be entertained where appropriate to both contribute to an overall understanding of this thesis’ topic and to better assess which legal results have a reasonable chance at practical implementation.← 3 | 4 →


1 The original German headline reads “Heißer Krieg ums Klima.” See Axel Bojanowski, “Heißer Krieg ums Klima,” Spiegel Online Wissenschaft, 3 May 2010, available at http://www.spiegel.de/wissenschaft/natur/forscherskandal-heisser-krieg-ums-klima-a-688175.html, last accessed 29 April 2014.

2 The quoted part of the original German headline reads “Wahn der Weltverbesserer.” See Axel Bojanowski, “Vorwürfe gegen Klimaforscher: Wahn der Weltverbesserer,” Spiegel Online Wissenschaft, 13 March 2013, available at http://www.spiegel.de/wissenschaft/natur/klimafalle-von-storch-und-krauss-ueber-politik-und-klimaforschung-a-885364.html, last accessed 29 April 2014.

3 See interview with Fritz Vahrenholt, “I Feel Duped on Climate Change,” Spiegel Online International, 8 February 2013, available at http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/breaking-global-warming-taboos-i-feel-duped-on-climate-change-a-813814.html, last accessed 29 April 2014.

4 See Mark Bittman, “Let’s Not Braise the Planet,” The New York Times, 1 July 2013, available at http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/07/01/lets-not-braise-the-planet/?ref=globalwarming, last accessed 29 April 2014.

5 See Bill McGuire, “Climate Change Will Shake the Earth,” The Guardian, 26 February 2012, available at http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/feb/26/why-climate-change-shake-earth?INTCMP=SRCH, last accessed 29 April 2014.

6 See Charles Krauthammer, “Obama’s Global-Warming Folly,” The Washington Post, 4 July 2013, available at http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2013-07-04/opinions/40369711_1_warming-climate-change-global-temperatures, last accessed 29 April 2014.

7 See Riley E. Dunlap, “Climate-Change Views: Republican-Democratic Gaps Expand,” Gallup, 29 May 2008, available at http://www.gallup.com/poll/107569/climatechange-views-republicandemocratic-gaps-expand.aspx, last accessed 29 April 2014.

8 See Leiserowitz et al., p. 4.

9 Protocol of the 6.587th meeting of the Security Council, 20 July 2011, U.N Doc. S/PV.6587, p. 3.

10 See Human Tide: The Real Migration Crisis – A Christian Aid Report, May 2007, p. 6. Available at http://www.christianaid.org.uk/images/human-tide.pdf, last accessed 29 April 2014. The study will hereinafter be referred to as Human Tide.

11 Markard et al., ZAR 2009, 27 (27 et seqq.), e.g., summarize this discussion with regard to new migration laws for Europe.

12 Kehrer discusses this topic in her doctoral thesis.

13 The main strategies pursued in addressing climate change, namely mitigation, adaption and (since recently) loss and damage will be briefly discussed further below, see § 2. E.

14 Burkett in: Gerrard/Wannier, 89 (120).

15 Hereinafter, Small Islands Developing States will be referred to as SIDS.


XIII, 226
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2014 (November)
Völkerrecht Klimawandel Staatsbegriff Umweltvölkerrecht
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2015. XIV, 226 pp.

Biographical notes

Frederick von Paepcke (Author)

Frederik von Paepcke studied Law at the Universities of Heidelberg, Lausanne and Münster. For the United Nations he worked as an advisor at the Mission of Tuvalu (Oceania) and holds a fellowship of the Stiftung der Deutschen Wirtschaft (German Economy Foundation).


Title: Statehood in Times of Climate Change
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