The Anthropocene and International Law: Challenges of Sea-level Rise for the 21st Century

With the onset of the Anthropocene, fundamental challenges for international law may be on the horizon. Core aspects of international law rely on the stability of Holocene conditions: geographical features, due to their perceived stability, are taken as a key objective circumstance in determining the rights of states to maritime zones, as well as in resolving maritime delimitation disputes. A defined territory is a constituent element of statehood under international law. In some of its key aspects, international law today is a system of rules resting on foundations that evolved under the understanding of ever-valid circumstances of the Holocene.

In not too distant future, important questions may arise about the sustainability of those aspects of international law, while other aspects, such as the population of the state – and, accordingly, human rights – may gain in prominence and acquire new dimensions, all likely to require profound re-examination of currently-accepted paradigms of international law. The perspective of sea-level rise may be among key factors prompting a thorough re-examination of some aspects of international law. The International Law Association recently (in November 2012) decided to establish a new International Committee – on International Law and Sea Level Rise – to initiate an analysis of the issues involved.