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The “International Symposium of Islands and Oceans” was held to discuss issues on 1) Island conservation and revival initiatives, 2) islands and the problem of sea level rise due to climate change and 3) management of islands and surrounding ocean areas.
This paper addresses a critical issue for many coastal States: rising global sea levels. While the causes of climate change still excite controversy and debate, it is now widely accepted that significant sea level rise is taking place and that this trend appears likely to accelerate in the future. This phenomenon raises a number of important challenges for coastal and island States. Among these threats is the likely impact of rising sea levels on national claims to maritime jurisdiction. Significant changes to coastlines and therefore baselines and the potential submergence of key basepoints may potentially lead to the loss of broad national claims to maritime jurisdiction. The loss of significant areas, even all, of the maritime jurisdictional zones claimed by certain coastal States is likely to have profound economic consequences as jurisdictional rights over the valuable resources within these maritime spaces would also necessarily be lost. Certain generally low-lying Pacific Island States, notably Kiribati, Marshall Islands and Tuvalu, which also have geographically restricted territorial extents, appear to be especially vulnerable to these threats. Some of the options to address these potentially dire threats are then briefly addressed.