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Legal Dimensions of Sea Level Rise: Pacific Perspectives

The World Bank and GFDRR

This legal study has been developed as part of the World Bank’s work on “Building Resilience in Pacific Atoll Island Countries”, which aims to strengthen the capacity of selected Pacific atoll island countries to cope with the long-term (100 year+) adverse impacts of climate change. “Building Resilience in Pacific Atoll Island Countries” stresses that short- to medium-term adaptation options will not suffice in addressing the escalating impacts of sea level rise and climate change. Consequently, it explores the implications of alternative adaptation options while also considering investment needs and associated costs.

This study is designed to provide an assessment of the impacts of climate change, especially sea level rise, on the maritime rights of coastal States. Although the primary focus of this study is maritime rights, it also looks at the key legal frameworks regulating other issues likely to arise or increase in the light of the possible threats, such as those related to human mobility and the issues of continued statehood. Many of these issues pose completely unprecedented challenges to the international legal order, so definitive answers to many questions are simply not possible, but the objective of this study is to present the latest legal thinking on these issues and provide an analysis that will be useful to stakeholders, policymakers, and practitioners. 

The study is divided into three parts. Part I looks at the pioneering work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and its most recent predictions for sea level rise during the current century and then sets it in the context of other scientific work on threats from sea level rise and warming. Part II sets out an overview of relevant legal frameworks, key terminology, and principles based on international law as well as judicial decisions and scholarly work that define the rights, resources, and obligations of SIDS and the Pacific atoll countries in particular. Part III then presents a series of responses to key legal and policy questions faced by these States, in relation to sea level rise.

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