Friday, April 16, 2010

Article: Strange case of the disappearing islands (New Zealand Herald)

Cleo Paskal wrote a feature for the New Zealand Herald on some of the potential legal and geopolitical implications of islands disappearing because of subsidence/rising sea levels/etc., something that is already being seen and will become a critical problem in Pacific. 

The general idea is to try to ensure that, when possible, those who have to be relocated are seen as a benefit to the host country, not a liability. In some cases, this might be able to be done by using the value  of national sovereignty to "pay" for relocation. 

An excerpt from the feature:

In that model, neighbouring India, for example, would take in the Maldivian immigrants in exchange for India being able to extend its national waters to include Maldivian waters.
The proceeds from this extended EEZ (fisheries rights, seabed mining, etc) could be used to resettle and set up a trust fund for Maldivian immigrants, along the lines of land claim settlements in Canada. Maldivians could also get preferential access to the waters for economic development and, should the islands ever re-emerge, resettlement could be possible. The advantage for India would be an orderly settlement of relatively wealthy immigrants, and an extension of its coastal security zone.
This model might also be applicable in the Pacific. For example, if as the scientists tell us, Tuvalu will eventually need to be evacuated, and New Zealand takes in the bulk of the refugees, that patch of ocean could be administered from New Zealand by and for the benefit of the immigrants, affording resettlement money and economic prospects associated with their old homeland for those who want it.
The administration could be done through a sort of combination government-in-exile and trust.
It is worth noting that the host country need not be New Zealand or Australia. Given the geostrategic importance of the region, a "bidding war" for the immigrants might ensue with countries such as China and Taiwan looking to take in the immigrants in exchange for increased access to the region.
While this might seem far-fetched, what are the alternatives? If accepting the reality that some countries might need to be completely evacuated, a way forward of some sort will need to be found if a free-for-all is to be avoided. If left to the crisis point, it could end up in completely new and potentially undesirable forms of sovereignty.
For example, while the rest of Tuvalu is evacuated, one of the islands could be built up. That would probably qualify it as an "artificial island", affording it only a 500m safety zone, not the 200 nautical mile EEZ, but it would be enough to ensure statehood. That statehood could then be sold off to corporations who could then literally become sovereign, writing laws under which they flag ships, bank, run telecoms, sell arms, etc, with the impunity and immunity of statehood. This could have far-reaching security implications.
To read more, click here.

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