Australian members of the Committee:

  • Professor Jane McAdam, UNSW Australia – CoRapporteur
  • Professor Rosemary Rayfuse, UNSW Australia – Chair’s Nominee
  • Professor Clive Schofield, University of Wollongong – Ordinary Member
  • Derek Wong – Ordinary Member (Alternate)

The International Law Association (ILA) Committee on International Law and Sea Level Rise (Committee) held its first inter-sessional meeting on 12–13 June 2015 in Oslo. Hosted by Professor Davor Vidas (Committee Chair) and the Fridtjof Nansen Institute, the meeting was attended by 16 Committee members and 7 observers. After two intensive days of discussions, the participants wrapped up their deliberations with a dinner cruise on the Oslo fjord. Not only was the meeting productive, but it was highly enjoyable as well.

The foundation and mandate of the Committee

The Committee has its origins in the 2012 final report Baselines under the International Law of the Sea, which recognised that the loss of a state’s territory due to sea-level rise is not only a baseline or law of the sea issue, but encompasses other wider areas of international law. This was acknowledged in Resolution No 1/2012: Baselines under the International Law of the Sea, adopted at the 75th ILA Conference in Sofia, which led to the establishment, in the same year, of this new Committee.

The mandate of the Committee, approved by the ILA Executive Council and recalled in its first session, is ‘to study the possible impacts of sea-level rise and the implications under international law of the partial and complete inundation of state territory, or depopulation thereof, in particular small island and low-lying states;’ and to ‘develop proposals for the progressive development of international law in relation to the possible loss or all or parts of state territory and maritime zones due to sea-level rise, including the impacts on statehood, nationality, and human rights.’

As outlined in the proposal for the establishment of the Committee, three main avenues of enquiry were initially considered as relevant:

  • The consequences of sea-level rise on entitlements to maritime areas;
  • The consequences of sea-level rise on statehood; and
  • The consequences of sea-level rise on human rights and mobility (displacement, migration and planned relocation).

The research areas were reflected in the appointment of Professor David Freestone and Professor Jane McAdam as Co-Rapporteurs.

Work of the Committee in 2014–2015

In April 2014, the Committee held its first meetings in Washington DC, two closed sessions (see here and here) and an open session (here), during which participants discussed the working methods of the Committee and its mandate, as well as a background paper relating to the theme of mobility. It was decided to approach the issues initially in two distinct streams; one relating to maritime zones and the other to mobility and human rights, and, at a later stage, to concentrate on joining the streams in the consideration of the statehood issue. In this latter regard, it was suggested that representation and active participation in the work of the Committee by members from the Pacific and other regions likely to be most affected should be sought and encouraged. In addition, it was noted that the Committee’s mandate also invited broader considerations relating to the consequences of sea-level rise on other areas of international law including, but not limited to, international environmental law and the law relating to climate change adaptation and mitigation. The desire for the inclusion of additional expertise on the Committee to enable a fuller consideration of these broader issues was expressed.

At the inter-sessional meeting on 12–13 June 2015, discussion papers were presented on the two main areas of the Committee’s mandate. Of the Australian members, Professor Clive Schofield spoke on options to address the instability of baselines and maritime limits as a result of sea level rise and outlined recent trends in state practice towards the fixing of maritime boundaries and outer limit lines. In addition, in response to the wishes of the membership expressed during the Washington meetings, Professor Rosemary Rayfuse presented a paper on the broader issue of the impacts of sea-level rise on regimes relating to the protection, conservation and management of natural (as opposed to human) systems, including the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage and the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance. Co-Rapporteur Professor Jane McAdam presented an extensive draft interim report on human rights and mobility prepared by a working group comprised of herself, Committee members Bruce Burson (New Zealand) and Walter Kälin (Switzerland), and Sanjula Weerasinghe.

Robust discussions were held on both the law of the sea and the human rights/mobility issues. There was a significant amount of agreement among the Committee members on both the issues for consideration and the possible recommendations that might be made as work progresses, which will be reflected in a draft interim report. This will be circulated to Committee members for comment and input prior to its submission for consideration at the 2016 ILA Conference in Johannesburg.

ILA members interested in the work of the Committee are invited to attend a seminar to be held at UNSW Law on Monday 10 August 2015 (details forthcoming) at which Co-Rapporteur Professor David Freestone will speak on the law of the sea and statehood issues.