Sinking Small Island Nations: Calls for a Lifeboat

Date01 July 2017
Sinking Small Island Nations:
Calls for a Lifeboat
by Pratheek Maddhi Reddy
Pratheek Maddhi Reddy is a third-year student, B.B.A. LL.B, at Jindal Global Law School, O.P. Jindal Global University.
In the South Pacic, midway between Hawaii and Aus-
tralia, lies the beautiful island nation of Tuvalu, home
to about 10,000 people. In about 40 years, Tuvalu will
be uninhabitable, and in 70 years, at best, it is likely to
be underwater. Due to rising sea levels caused by g lobal
warming, other low-lying island nations such as Kiribati,
Fiji, Marshall Islands, Vanuatu, Micronesia, and Nauru are
bound to suer the same fate eventually.
e low- elevat ion small isla nds, which contribute
negli gibly to glo bal warm ing, bear the most immediate
consequences . For instance, high sea levels have result ed
in di splacement of people in Kiribat i, Marsha ll Islands ,
Solomon Islands, and the Federated States of Microne -
sia. A de vast ating cyclone in 2008 destroyed agr iculture
and infras truc ture in Fiji and required the Fijian gov-
ernment to provide $1.7 m illion ( Fiji dollar s) wor th of
food r ations .1
is raises pressing ca lls for remedies for sinking small
island nations, in the forms of migration, compensation,
and reduction in greenhouse ga s (GHG) emissions. is
Comment discusses what these remedies mean to the small
island nations a nd their exigent nature, and proposes an
alternative mechanism to litigation.
I. Remedies
A. Migration
Environmenta l events such as cyclones, oods, deser ti-
cation, soil erosion, and changing coastlines will create
an exigency to migrate, which is the natura l adapta-
tion strategy of m ankind to environ mental volat ility.
Contrar y to general perception, more people are likely
to mig rate due to slow-onset processes of environmental
degradat ion than because of sudden-onset events such as
storms and cyclones.2
1. F  A O   U N, C-
 C  F S  P I C 6
2. Philippe Boncour & Bruce Burson, Climate Change and Migration in the
South Pacic Region: Policy Perspectives, 5 P’ Q. 13 (2009).
ere is no veried estimate of projected population
ow due to rising sea levels, only guesstimates. Sixteen
percent of the land area of small island states is coastal
area with an elevation less than 10 meters, as opposed to
a global average of only 2%.3 Maldives is the lowest-lying
country, with more than 80% of land less than one meter
above sea level.4
With sea-level rise of a mere 0.5 to 2.0 meters, between
1.2 and 2.2 million people from the Caribbean and Indian
and Pacic Oceans could be displaced.5 e total popula-
tion in t he Pacic region is projected to reach nearly 18
million by mid-century, which could result in between
665,000 and 1,750,000 people migrating to other regions
of the world.6
Migration could be domestic as well as cross-border.
Within-countr y migration is quite common among
islands in the Pacic and Indian Oceans. For instance,
due to inundation from high water levels and storms,
2,600 Papua New Guineans migrated from low-lying
Carteret Islands to Bougainville.7 However, the current
rate of sea-level rise makes this a nd other such domestic
population movements in Micronesia and Vanuatu too
short-term a solution.
Hence, international or cross-border migration will
soon be a reality. International migration and relocation
require nuanced policy development a imed at coopera-
tion among cou ntries. ere is a need for a framework
that addres ses barriers such as resources, information,
and ot her social and personal factors in obtaining entry
into new countries. Simultaneously, adaptive strategie s in
terms of citizenship, housing, services, and work in t he
3. Duncan Roden, , P. I N
A’, Apr. 28, 2014,/?p=pacnews&m=read&o=11
4. Gemima Harvey, Sinking States: Climate Change and the Pacic, D,
May 22, 2014,
5. I P  C C, C C
2014—I, A,  V: R A
1639 (Cambridge Univ. Press 2014).
6. John R. Campbell, Climate-Change Migration in the Pacic, 26 C.
P. 9 (2014).
7. F  A O, supra note 1, at 11.
Copyright © 2017 Environmental Law Institute®, Washington, DC. Reprinted with permission from ELR®,, 1-800-433-5120.

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