Buffalo Environmental Law Journal


Anemoone Soete

First Page


Document Type



One unmistakable and indisputable consequence of Climate Change is found in the realm of oceans. Sea-levels are currently rising at a pace unknown to mankind and as a consequence island states are destined to lose habitable land territory. Whereas some may lose parts, others will lose all of it in the current business as usual scenario. This reality first begs the question as to whether an island state will continue to be a state once bereft of a territorial basis. Secondly, it must be considered how islanders might retain legal personality should this is no longer be possible through the institution of statehood as it exists in positive law. Donning a long-term perspective and taking into account the need for a state to be an effective duty-holder.for its citizens, a state may arguably no longer be an effective state when missing the statehood criterion of habitable territory. However, this finding need not create a non liquet situation where we can only point out a gap in law to stare at, or revert to creative solutions such as recognizing deterritorialized entities as states with permanent ex situ governments. When setting aside a classical approach focusing fixedly on ways to ensure state security, the islanders' predicament can be viewed through a human security approach, which taps into the humanized side of today's international law and allows us to acknowledge that the islanders' situation is embedded in much more than the lore of statehood With this awareness, it can be concluded that to attempt retaining the legal personality, cultural identity and effective empowerment of islanders without an island-a people's human right to self-determination needs to take center stage.