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Climate change, Island nations, United Nations, Sea level rise, Statelessness, Climate offenders


What happens when climate change extinguishes entire nations? Neither international nor environmental law has provided a satisfactory answer to this weighty question. Climate change-induced flooding, storm surge, and sea level rise threaten the territorial integrity and habitability of several small island developing states, raising the specter of statelessness. We know that climate catastrophe is coming, but we have failed to take the necessary steps to safeguard several developing nations. This Article argues that innovative legal and policy solutions are needed today to prevent nation extinction tomorrow. I focus on two potential international governance solutions: the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change’s loss and damage mechanism and the U.N. Security Council’s capacity to address environmental threats to international peace and security.

This Article proceeds in four Parts. I first describe and analyze how climate change is threatening to destroy several island nations. Second, I analyze both the Framework Convention and Security Council’s legal authorities and capacity to prevent and compensate nations for climate-driven habitability loss. Third, I argue that wealthier, developed nations—responsible for the bulk of current and historic greenhouse gas emissions—must take the lead in saving nations from extinction. I conclude by offering a “climate-security” roadmap. This encompasses funding and implementing a loss and damage mechanism to compensate nations for harm already done. This roadmap offers a bolder vision for a reimagined Security Council that takes proactive steps to confront climate change as a threat to international peace and security.

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The Georgetown Environmental Law Review


© 2023, Mark Nevitt