16th Graduate Conference in Political Philosophy – Abstract/Sánchez De La Sierra

Laura Sánchez De La Sierra, Universitat Pompeu Fabra.

Climate Change and “Disappearing Islands”: The Case of Pacific Islands-States


Before the end of this century, some of the island-states of the Pacific will find themselves entirely inhabitable due to the effects of rising sea-levels associated mainly to climate change. As their environment slowly deteriorates, islanders will migrate in a gradual fashion. Although the mobile histories of the Pacific region show that this type of migration has long been an adaptation strategy for many local communities, previous cases have consisted in the relocation of parts of a state’s population, whether nationally or internationally. The problem of Pacific islands, however, is that entire states will eventually cease to be habitable. This raises hitherto novel  problems. Islanders will not only permanently lose their homes and lands, but their survival as a cultural and political community will also find itself under threat. This poses major legal and ethical challenges to the international community, as the global regime is ill-equipped to address this situation and new frameworks need to be developed. Indeed, as Part I of this article will show, the current legal system does not contain any adequate provisions to address the scenario of disappearing islands. Existing legal pathways for international relocation are either inapplicable, or they do not enable the type of permanent relocation needed here. Part II of the article will thus turn to the question of which framework should be  developed to respond to this situation. It will argue that islanders are entitled
to group protection schemes as reparation. Then, it will present a series of possible alternatives, and reflect upon the ethical adequacy of each of them.