Improving Solutions for the Asian-Pacific ‘Sinking Islands’ Paradigm

by Imaan Budhram
3012 words



Legal Challenges of the ‘Sinking Islands’ Paradigm

Legal Solutions for Kiribati

Clash Between Western and Asian-Pacific Discourse



Legal Solutions for Kiribati

            The aforementioned sections of the research paper have focused on analyzing legal issues that arise with the ‘sinking islands’ paradigm and proposing general solutions for Asian-Pacific Islanders. However, this section will focus on proposing solutions for a specific low-lying island state, namely Kiribati, to better visualize possible solutions Asian-Pacific Islands can take when dealing with the ‘sinking island’ paradigm. Kiribati is one of the island states that is very likely to be harmed by sea-level rise as its average height is circa 2 metres above sea level and is thus a relevant case study for this paper (Johnstone, 2019). Furthermore, it should be noted that the solutions that this section will propose will focus on relocating the Kiribatians in such a way that the sovereignty of Kiribati is maintained.

            The first solution would be to relocate the Kiribatian to the territory of another sovereign state (e.g. Australia or New Zealand) (Johnstone, 2019). The idea would then be for the sovereign state to give a part of their territory to Kiribati and grant them jurisdictional powers over that territory. The government of Kiribati has considered the idea and has even purchased some land of Fiji in 2014 (Caramel, 2014). Acceptance of this approach can also be seen among other low-lying island states. For example, the Marshall Islands have decided to follow Kiribati's approach and purchased land as well within another state’s territorial borders (Johnstone, 2019). However, this approach also has a few drawbacks. Firstly, relocation to another state would heavily affect Kiribati’s fishing rights and access to the marine resources of their land territory. This can result in significant financial challenges considering that the economy of Kiribati heavily relies on the income generated by access to these marine resources. Secondly, it would be highly difficult to find states that would be willing to sacrifice control over part of their territorial jurisdiction voluntarily.

            The second solution also involves the relocation of the Kiribatian people, but to an artificially created island (Johnstone, 2019). This is not an unrealistic solution as current technology is able to generate artificial islands that can sustain human life (Johnstone, 2019). Kiribati has decided to explore this solution as well and therefore consulted the United Arab Emirates, who are more familiar with such technology (Osborne, 2016). International maritime law would have to be adjusted slightly,13 but if concessions are made, it would be possible for Kiribati to continue being an independent state with access to its fishing rights and marine resources. Nevertheless, if states do not agree on granting Asian-Pacific Islanders sovereignty over such artificially created islands, this solution cannot be applied. In that sense, states have a legal responsibility as well to support this solution as it would allow for a continuation of recognition of rights of Asian-Pacific Island states.

13 According to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea artificial islands are not allowed to qualify for statehood or have an exclusive economic zone. See United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea 1833 UNTS 397 (opened for signature 10 December 1982, entered into force 16 November 1994), Art 2.