News

    Rising Sea Levels Threaten Island Nations

    Rising Sea Levels Threaten Island Nations
    Rising Sea Levels Threaten Island Nations

    What happens to a nation’s sovereignty if it literally sinks beneath the ocean?  This is among the unprecedented questions facing many of the world’s island nations now threatened by rising sea levels.  Legal scholars, diplomats and other experts wrestled with this scenario this week at the Columbia University Law School in New York City.

    Sea levels in recent decades have been rising each year by millimeters and now threaten to increase by centimeters and even more.  It could be enough to submerge many island nations.

    Columbia University’s “Threatened Island Nations Conference” examined the legal implications of global climate change and the resulting rise in sea levels.  The easy part was recognizing that sovereignty confers citizenship, diplomatic status, mineral rights, and other privileges of nationhood. 


    But Rosemary Rayfuse, a law professor at Australia’s University of New South Wales said the next part is more difficult. “We have rules about the creation of states that we alluded to this morning, but we don’t have any rules about states, which physically disappear off the face of the earth,” she said.

    So if an island nation is submerged beneath the ocean, does it maintain its membership in the United Nations?  Who is responsible for the citizens?  Do they travel on its passport?  Who claims and enforces offshore mineral and fishing rights in waters around a submerged nation?  

    International law currently has no answers to such questions.  

    United Nations Ambassador Phillip Muller of the Marshall Islands said there is no sense of urgency to find not only those answers, but also to address the causes of climate change, which many believe to be responsible for rising ocean levels.

    “Even if we reach a legal agreement sometime soon, which I don’t think we will, the major players are not in the process,” Muller said.

    Those players, the participants said, include industrial nations such as the United States and China that emit the most carbon dioxide and other so-called greenhouse gases.  Many climate scientists say those gases are responsible for global warming.  Mary-Elena Carr of Columbia University’s Earth Institute said what is now an annual sea level rise of a few millimeters will increase dramatically by the year 2100.

    “There’s just no escaping one meter by 2100.  No escaping that.  Could it be more?  Absolutely.  Is it likely to be 10?  No,” she said.

    The reason, she says, are industrial greenhouse gases that trap heat in the upper atmosphere.  Higher global temperatures then cause glaciers to melt and sea levels to rise.  And higher sea levels would submerge many island nations.  

    Jenny Grote Stoutenburg, a legal scholar at the University of California, pointed out it is difficult to prove responsibility for climate change.  “But even if a legal duty of continued recognition cannot be established, states should accept moral responsibility for their disproportionate use of the atmosphere and continue recognizing island states out of a sense of international justice and solidarity,” she said.

    Ambassador Antonio Lima of the Cape Verde Islands warned that if people in large nations do not help those on small threatened islands, they will condemn themselves to the same fate. “We are the sentinels of the world, the small island developing states.  We are sentinels of the world.  What is happening to us will happen to all of us tomorrow,” he said.

    Indeed, scientists predict that because of rising sea levels, people living in coastal areas of large nations will face the same threat of inundation now being faced by residents of small island nations.

    The Columbia conference did not answer the questions it posed.  But it did issue a moral challenge to the international community to take measures to protect island nations from being submerged.  As Ambassador Lima put it, human civilization means solidarity, not abandoning others to their fate.  And time to avert that fate, he said, is running out.

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growthi
    X
    February 10, 2016 5:54 AM
    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growth

    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Civil Rights Pioneer Remembers Struggle for Voting Rights

    February is Black History Month in the United States. The annual, month-long national observance pays tribute to important people and events that shaped the history of African Americans. VOA's Chris Simkins reports how one man fought against discrimination to help millions of blacks obtain the right to vote
    Video

    Video Jordanian Theater Group Stages Anti-Terrorism Message

    The lure of the self-styled “Islamic State” has many parents worried about their children who may be susceptible to the organization’s online propaganda. Dozens of Muslim communities in the Middle East are fighting back -- giving young adults alternatives to violence. One group in Jordan is using dramatic expression a send a family message. Mideast Broadcasting Network correspondent Haider Al Abdali shared this report with VOA. It’s narrated by Bronwyn Benito
    Video

    Video Migrant Crisis Fuels Debate Over Britain’s Future in EU

    The migrant crisis in Europe is fueling the debate in Britain ahead of a referendum on staying in the European Union that may be held this year. Prime Minister David Cameron warns that leaving the EU could lead to thousands more migrants arriving in the country. Meanwhile, tension is rising in Calais, France, where thousands of migrants are living in squalid camps. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Valentine's Day Stinks for Lebanese Clowns

    This weekend, on Valentine's Day in Lebanon, love is not the only thing in the air. More than half a year after the country's trash crisis began, the stink of uncollected garbage remains on the streets. Step forward "Clown Me In," a group of clowns who use their skills for activism. Before the most romantic day of the year the clowns have released their unusual take on love in Lebanon -- in a bid to keep the pressure up and get the trash off the streets. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Families Flee Aleppo for Kurdish Regions in Syria

    Not all who flee the fighting in Aleppo are trying to cross the border into Turkey. A VOA reporter caught up with several families heading for Kurdish-held areas of northern Syria.
    Video

    Video Rocky Year Ahead for Nigeria Amid Oil Price Crash

    The global fall in the price of oil has rattled the economies of many petroleum exporters, and Africa’s oil king Nigeria is no exception. As Chris Stein reports from Lagos, analysts are predicting a rough year ahead for the continent’s top producer of crude.
    Video

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.
    Video

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.