Climate change and borders
2nd August, 2007
Even the most conservative estimates of sea level rise caused by climate change will cause a redrawing of the physical map of the planet. Here Cleo Paskal, Associate Fellow at Chatham House, looks at the potential consequences.
This is what we know. As has happened during countless past climatic shifts, some areas of the Earth will flood, others will emerge from their shroud of ice, and previously non-navigable sea-lanes will open up.
The difference this time is that we are in an era of international law, in which our political boundaries are closely and rigidly tied to our physical ones. This is especially true when it comes to maritime borders that, legally, are often determined by coastlines. As sea level changes cause those coastlines to retreat, advance or, in the extreme case of low-lying islands, disappear completely, might maritime boundaries shift?
To understand what that might mean, it is worth looking at three scenarios, each highlighting a different (hypothetical but possible) legal situation.
Shifting borders between maritime neighbours
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