Authors: Robin Attfield and John Clutterbuck
Climate change and sea-level rise are depriving not only many individuals and families of livelihoods, but also whole nations and peoples of their territory and thus their self-determination. Natural justice suggests that the polluters who cause these problems have duties to deliver compensation. But sharing a territory is incompatible with sovereignty, and thus no solution, and compensation in the form of replacement territories is likely to be unattainable, since few uninhabited territories are available, and small islands, even when uninhabited, are shown to be mostly (if not invariably) unsuitable. Yet being allocated an island over which to exercise qualified sovereignty could serve to symbolise that a nation’s statehood remains intact. Facilitating such a transfer and resettlement by way of compensation is arguably a responsibility of states with significant carbon footprints. Clearer definitions and statistics of environmental refugees could at least assist their being granted UN-recognised refugee status, and thus their possibly receiving at least token grants of compensatory territory.
Keywords: Environmental refugees, climate change, sea-level rise, loss of sovereign territory, compensation, uninhabited islands, statelessness, territorial enclaves, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees