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Climate change inundation and Atoll Island States: implications for human rights, self-determination and statehood

Willcox, Susannah (2015) Climate change inundation and Atoll Island States: implications for human rights, self-determination and statehood. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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‘Climate change inundation’ — the process whereby climate change-related harms such as rising sea levels, higher storm surges and changing rainfall patterns interact with existing vulnerabilities like poverty, resource scarcity and inadequate infrastructure — will eventually leave low-lying coral atoll island states uninhabitable. Climate change inundation demands our attention because of the unique challenge it presents to the state, which provides the international legal personality and political infrastructure through which individual and collective human rights are protected, treaties are negotiated and so on. While recognising the positive features of proposals for the planned migration of individual islanders, this thesis is concerned with what they fail to capture: the threat posed by climate change inundation to the collective autonomy and independence of atoll island populations. It explores this threat from the perspective of self-determination, a legal principle whose relevance in this context has been widely acknowledged but not yet explored in detail. The thesis identifies the populations of atoll island states as self-determining peoples, argues for the recognition of climate change inundation as a grave, foreseeable, external threat to their self-determination, and examines the reasons other states may have for acting (or not acting) to address this threat. It then proposes a collective decision-making framework for atoll island peoples, drawing inspiration from the Declaration on Friendly Relations. The first option in this decision-making framework is the ‘[re-]establishment of a sovereign and independent State’ with jurisdiction over a defined territory; the second is ‘the emergence into any other political status freely determined by a people’, including a so-called ‘deterritorialized state’; and the third is to enter into ‘free association or integration with an independent State’, a choice that would protect the collective political status of a people but abandon any claim to statehood or exclusive territorial jurisdiction.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2015 Susannah Willcox
Library of Congress subject classification: K Law > K Law (General)
Sets: Departments > Law
Supervisor: Salomon, Margot and Wenar, Leif

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