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Statehood in Times of Climate Change

Impacts of Sea Level Rise on the Concept of States


Frederick von Paepcke

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.
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§ 5. Consequences for the Statehood of Endangered States


Endangered states “must be prepared to deal with the virtually unprecedented situation of physically losing their […] territory.”1408 Based on their claim to a new state territory as discussed in the previous chapter, it is advisable for endangered states to start pursuing their interests early enough in order to facilitate a relocation before their current territories are inundated. Firstly, however, what happens to the statehood of endangered states’ when they lose their state territory due to inundation without already having relocated to another place has to be clarified.

Some of this thesis’ findings can be restated at this juncture. The examination of the endangered states’ claim in § 4 was motivated by the realisation that there are currently only two conceivable consequences if a state permanently loses its (present) state territory due to inundation. Based on current international law and the contemporary concept of states, the most obvious result of the loss of a state’s constitutive element would be its alteration in its status as a legal entity (‘state’) to a sui generis subject of international law.1409 Its population would have to migrate to another or several other states.1410 The second alternative, a state relocation while preserving the respective statehood,1411 is only possible on two conditions: First, the non-territorial status must not be permanent. Second, a state relocation (and thus its continuation as an identical legal entity at another location) must be possible according to international law.

The first condition of the second alternative is met:...

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