Pacific nations explore legal options and institutional responses to impacts of sea-level rise and climate change on maritime boundaries

IPCC - Chapter 4: Sea Level Rise and Implications for Low-Lying Islands, Coasts and Communities
04:05 am GMT+12, 10/09/2020, Fiji

The small island nation of Tuvalu has appealed to members of the Pacific Islands Forum – not including its metropolitan members Australia and New Zealand – to treat with urgency the delineation of their maritime boundaries – taking into consideration the impact of sea-level rise and climate change.
And it’s taken the lead to amend domestic legislation to show that the breadth of its maritime zones is measured from a fixed baseline.
Foreign Affairs Minister, Simon Kofe went a step further to say Tuvalu’s new 2020 Foreign Policy will insist that countries forming diplomatic relations with the Pacific nation must recognise this national position.
“All countries forming relations with Tuvalu recognise the statehood of the nation as permanent and its existing maritime boundaries are set regardless of sea level rise, said Kofe while addressing a regional conference on securing the limits of the Blue Pacific.
The online meeting will also explore legal options and institutional responses to the impacts of sea-level rise on maritime zones.
Kofe reiterated that climate change induced sea-level rise has posed a legal threat to the Pacific’s maritime zone entitlements and ‘our statehood status under international law.”
The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) which established the regime of various maritime zones, never considered the effect of sea-level rise on baselines – and it’s unclear whether baselines are fixed or not.
UNCLOS is an international agreement that defines the rights and responsibilities of nations with respect to their use of the world’s oceans, establishing guidelines for the management of marine natural resources.
Pacific Islands Forum Secretary General, Dame Meg Taylor described securing the Blue Pacific continent against the threats of sea-level rise and climate change as a ‘defining issue’ for the Pacific.
“Now more than ever, our identity and advocacy as collective is absolutely vital. The Blue Pacific continent is geographically centred amidst the world’s largest economic powers and the geopolitical and development context of the Pacific is constantly changing at such a rapid pace.
“And, yes, perhaps the time is now right to leverage the geopolitical interests and opportunities that are available to us to advocate for and secure our maritime boundaries into perpetuity, emphasised Dame Meg at the same conference.
Tuvalu’s foreign minister agreed saying advocacy starts at home – ensuring the legislation is in place that recognise and support that maritime boundaries are in place and baselines are fixed.
“What we do at the national level is equally important, if not more important than what we do on the international level.
“This is because the formation of customary international law that is favourable to the Pacific is dependent largely on the state practice of Pacific Island States whose interests are specifically affected…. we need not wait for the global community to respond to our calls, we can take action now to secure the limits ad future of the Blue Pacific, said Kofe.
He said another important question to be considered by Leaders, particularly of small low lying atoll nations, is whether their nations can retain statehood under international law, in the absence of a population or physical land territory.
“These and other legal issues, led the Forum Leaders in 2019 to commit to a collective effort to develop international law to ensure that once a PIF member’s maritime zones are delineated in accordance with UNCLOS, that members maritime zones cannot be challenged or reduced as a result of sea-level rise and climate change, said Kofe.
Dame Meg said without the enjoyment of rights and jurisdictions in our maritime zones, the protection of our heritage, economic development and nation building cannot be possible.
“I strongly encourage you all to constructively debate the issues at hand with a view to agreeing to strategic direction for agreed legal options and institutional responses to the impact of sea-level rise and climate change on maritime boundaries, in the context of international law and also provide clarity in how we go about doing this as a collective, Dame Meg reminded regional government officials attending the virtual discussion.



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