Engulfed by water, is a state doomed to be wiped off the map?

published on Monday, October 10, 2022 at 05:03

If the sea swallows the Maldives or Tuvalu, will it wipe the country off the map and its citizens with it? This inconceivable loss caused by climate change represents an unprecedented hurdle for the international community and the peoples threatened with losing even their identity.

“This is the greatest tragedy that a people, a country, a nation can face,” former Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed told AFP.

According to UN climate experts (IPCC), sea level has already risen 15 to 25 cm since 1900 and the rise is accelerating, with an even faster pace in certain tropical areas.

Thus, if the increase in emissions continues, the oceans could gain almost a meter more around the Pacific and Indian islands by the end of the century.

This certainly remains below the high point of the flatter small island states, but the rise in water levels will be accompanied by an increase in storm surges and wave immersions: the water and land will become polluted with salt, which will make the number of uninhabitable atolls long. before they were covered by the sea.

According to a study cited by the IPCC, five states (Maldives, Tuvalu, Marshall Islands, Nauru and Kiribati) are at risk of becoming uninhabitable by 2100, creating 600,000 stateless climate refugees.

– “Legal Fiction” –

However, the Montevideo Convention of 1933 on the rights and duties of States, a reference on the matter, is clear: a State is made up of a defined territory, a permanent population, a government and the ability to relate to other states.

So if the territory is swallowed up, or no one can live on what is left, at least one of the criteria fails.

But “the concept of State is a legal fiction created for the needs of international law. So we could create a new fiction to include these deterritorialized states”, argues Sumudu Atapattu.

This is the idea behind the “Rising Nations” initiative launched in September by several Pacific governments: “Convince UN members to recognize our nation, even if we are submerged by water, because it is our identity,” he said. the Prime Minister of Tuvalu. Kausea Natano told AFP.

Some are already thinking about how to use these Nation States 2.0. “You could have the territory somewhere, the population somewhere else, and the government somewhere third,” Kamal Amakrane, director of Columbia University’s Center for Climate Mobility, told AFP.

This would require first a UN “political declaration”, then a “treaty” between the threatened state and a “host state”, ready to receive the government-in-exile in a kind of permanent embassy and its population who would then have dual nationality. .

The former UN official also draws attention to an ambiguity in the Montevideo Convention: “When we talk about territory, is it land or maritime territory?”

– ‘Ingenious humans’ –

If this maritime sovereignty were preserved, then a State would not disappear, certain experts assure.

While some islets are already submerged and coastlines are receding, freezing EEZs in the first place would preserve access to vital resources.

In an August 2021 statement, members of the Pacific Islands Forum, including Australia and New Zealand, incidentally “proclaimed” that their maritime zones “would continue to apply, without reduction, notwithstanding any physical changes related to the increase in sea ​​level”.

But, in any case, some simply do not consider leaving their threatened country.

“Humans are resourceful, they will find floating ways to continue living there,” says Mohamed Nasheed, referring to the floating cities.

But these states do not have the resources for such projects. The issue of financing “loss and damage” caused by global warming impacts will also be a hot topic at COP27 in Egypt in November.

Even defending “the right to stay” and not abandoning one’s land and “her heritage”, “a plan B is always needed”, insists Kamal Amakrane.

In this sense, he calls for launching “as soon as possible” a “political” process to preserve future uninhabitable states, “to give hope to the populations.”

Because the current uncertainty “creates bitterness and disorder, and with that we kill a nation, a people.”

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