6 December, 2019, Madrid, Spain - Sea level continues to rise at an increasing rate. According to the Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change it is forecast the extreme sea level events that now happen every 100 years will happen on an annual basis by 2100.
According to the Pacific Marine Climate Change Report Card 2018, between 1993 and 2017, satellite measurements show that there has been a rise in sea level of 3 – 6 mm each year for the Pacific islands but with some notable differences between islands.
The 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea which provides the regime for establishing maritime boundaries and maritime zones was adopted before the impacts of climate change were fully realised. Now with sea level rise there are wide ranging implications for maritime boundaries in the Pacific islands, which are all large ocean nations having rights over huge maritime zones and their resources.
Under the Law of the Sea Convention, there are criteria for natural features that generates the baselines defining the countries’ maritime boundaries, and as these undergo changes such as sea level rise, their ability to generate maritime zones may be questioned.
Baselines are the references for the Exclusive Economic Zones or Territorial Seas, yet when these lines are no longer on the map where they were as the water has physically risen, it does pose a challenge.
“Borders, whether separating land or seas, are one of the fundamentals upon which a State secures its sovereignty. In August, 2012, the Cook Islands established its maritime borders by treaties with its neighboring countries and became the second Pacific nation to secure its entire 1.98 million square kilometers Exclusive Economic Zone,” said the Prime Minister of the Cook Islands, Hon. Henry Puna.
Prime Minister Puna spoke during a special event at the Moana Blue Pacific Pavilion at the Twenty-Fifth Conference of the Parties on the UN Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC COP25) on the Impact of Climate Change on Maritime Boundaries in the Pacific.
“One reason we put such urgency behind our effort was the need to secure our borders and fight against illegal fishing and illegal incursions into our waters. Our maritime boundaries are also fundamental to securing the wealth of our deep sea mineral resources.”
It is the Pacific islands that have been labelled as the “gold standard” having negotiated 73% of the shared boundaries and therefore providing more certainty when it comes to the implications of sea level rise.
The Pacific islands countries have achieved this with a consortium of international and regional partners coordinated by the Pacific Community (SPC) and supported by the Australian Government.
“Our collective ideal of a Blue Pacific Continent, also ensures the maritime zone of each Pacific island country and any Marine Protected Areas including the Cook Islands’ Marae Moana, allow us to sustainably manage and conserve our resources and our environment,” said Prime Minister Puna.
“This is our future, its supports our nations continued development – and for this reason we cannot be allowed to continue to be adversely affected by climate change crisis and a continuing rise in seal levels.”
Now that sea level rise and its impact upon maritime boundaries has been acknowledged as an issue of concern for the Pacific, work will be undertaken to address this across the region through the support of the Australian Government.
Pacific island countries are also at the UNFCCC COP25 in Madrid, Spain this week, calling upon Parties to commit to higher ambitions to achieve a 1.5 degree world to avoid a continued increase in sea level rise as science indicates there will come a point when people cannot adapt anymore.
The “Assessing the impact of climate change and sea level rise on Pacific Islands’ maritime boundaries” side event was held at the Moana Blue Pacific Pavilion on Tuesday, 3 December 2019 facilitated by the Pacific Community. It featured the Prime Minister of the Cook Islands Hon. Henry Puna, Dr Melchior Mataki Solomon Islands Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Environment, Climate Change, Disaster Management and Meteorology, Mr Taholo Kami, Special Representative on Oceans of the Ministry of Economy of Fiji and Dr. Suzanne Akila, Director International Law Advising and Treaties Section Legal Division, Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
The UNFCCC COP25 is held from 2 – 13 December, 2019 in Madrid, Spain.