Brief – 10 August 2010 – A conference to be held at the Columbia Law School in New York City will address the legal issues surrounding island nations that are at risk of being wiped off the map due to rising sea levels.

A 2007 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change projected that sea levels would rise an average of five millimeters per year this century, although the rise is expected to be higher in parts of the Pacific. Some island nations are particularly vulnerable as most of their land lies at most only a few feet above sea level.

Some of the legal issues the conference will address include:

  • Relocation. If an island nation is uninhabitable, where do its citizens go?
  • Continued Sovereignty. What happens to the rights of a country if it has no remaining dry land? Is it still a state?
  • Legal Protections. Lawsuits and claims would inevitably result from any forced relocation. Who would be able to sue? Where?
  • Limiting the Damage. In some cases, entire countries—like Bangladesh—are not in danger, but their coastlines are. How can they be helped?

The Law School’s Center for Climate Change Law has put out a call for papers to solicitors and legal scholars for the conference.

Abstracts of no more than 300 words of papers to be presented at the conference should be sent to Gerrard at

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