Rising waters, shrinking states: the potential impacts of sea level rise on claims to maritime jurisdiction



Publication Details

C. H. Schofield, 'Rising waters, shrinking states: the potential impacts of sea level rise on claims to maritime jurisdiction' (2011) 53 German Yearbook of International Law 189-231.

Additional Publication Information

Vol. 53 (2010) of the German Yearbook of International Law examines the issue of climate change from a variety of different legal perspectives. This volume contains articles from prominent scholars on state responsibility, trade and human rights, the evolving nature of the precautionary principle, biodiversity conservation, environmentally-induced migration, sea-level rise and maritime boundaries, climate change from the perspective of the Third World and the environmental impacts of changes in the European Union’s energy policies. We are also pleased to examine China’s approach to international law in our Forus section. Our General Articles section reflects critical developments in 2010 including the referendum in Southern Sudan, the review conference for the Rome Statute of the ICC, the ICJ’s Advisory Opinion on Kosovo’s Declaration of Independence and several decisions of US federal courts widening the scope of the Alien Torts Statute among other outstanding articles. Thank you to all of our authors for making this volume possible.


Global sea levels are rising and this trend has been linked to anthropogenically-induced climate change. This phenomenon has raised concerns over a range of threats to coastal States and coastal-dwelling populations. While this paper reviews these issues, its main focus is on the potential implications of sea level rise on national claims to maritime jurisdiction. Such claims are generally measured from baselines along the coast. The paper examines, in particular, the predominant type of baseline used by coastal States, that is, "normal" baselines coinciding with low water lines along the coast. The traditional implication of using the low-water line as the basis for measuring maritime claims is that as the low water line along the coast changes or "ambulates," so too will the maritime limits measured from it. As sea levels rise, normal baselines are likely to retreat inland leading to potentially substantial losses in the areas of nationally-claimed maritime spaces. Options to preserve the maritime claims of coastal States threatened by sea level rise are explored. It is argued that there is a growing need for a departure from the traditional norm of ambulatory normal baselines and consequently shifting maritime jurisdictional limits in the interests of providing marine users with stability, clarity and certainty.

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