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Sea-level rise threatens Pacific Islands claim to sea

Sea-level rise threatens Pacific islands claim to sea areas’ and marine resources

15 July 2014

Nadi, Fiji: Climate change-induced sea-level rise in the world's small island nations continues to be the most pressing threat to their environment and socio-economic development with annual losses estimated in the billions of dollars due to increased vulnerability. Small island nations vulnerability to climate change and sea-level rise is magnified due to their relatively small land masses, population concentrations, and high dependence on coastal ecosystems for food, livelihood, security and protection against extreme events. Among the threats are increased flooding, shoreline erosion, ocean acidification, warmer sea and land temperature, and damage to infrastructure from extreme weather events.

But the adverse impacts of climate change on Small Island Developing States (SIDS) extends beyond the loss of livelihoods and land, it also threatens the sea areas belonging to these islands and within them, the vast wealth of fisheries resources including highly migratory species such as These issues will be discussed at the regional workshop on strategies and capacity building in Pacific SIDS to address climate change impacts on jurisdictional claims, in Nadi, Fiji from 16 to 18 July 2014. The workshop is held in partnership with the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency and will bring together government officers from the region to discuss various national, regional, and global options for minimizing risks associated with jurisdictional claims.

Climate change and sea level rise are expected to have a dramatic impact on the abundance and distribution of fisheries resources within areas under national jurisdiction as well as on the high seas said Mr. Frank Chopin from FAOs fishing operations and technology service in Rome, Italy. “Having well defined stable boundaries allows a country to monitor and control fisheries right up to the extent of their boundaries and reducing the chance for illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing from taking place.

In addition to resource productivity, sea level rise may also have a profound effect on the location of boundaries which define the territorial seas and Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) under national jurisdiction and which form the basis for controlling fishing effort said Mr. Blaise Kuemlangan, Chief of FAO's Development Law Service. Points (baselines) used to demarcate territorial seas and which are subsequently used to delineate EEZs may become submerged. “As a consequence, shifting baselines may result in reduced territorial seas and even a State’s area of exclusive economic zone” he said.

Dr. Martin Tsamenyi, a renowned international law expert and FAO Consultant added that in worst case scenarios for some small island States in the Pacific, a whole state may be submerged and the whole population re-located.

Dr. Tsamenyi said that many island states in the pacific have established their land boundaries using points on low lying shorelines, reefs and atolls many of which are highly vulnerable to even small changes in sea level rise.

The workshop will also discuss implications to the Pacific SIDS from legal, policy and institutional perspectives, current and future maritime boundary situations and the related socio-economic implications of climate change. Mr. Gavin Wall, Coordinator for the FAO Sub Regional Office for the Pacific Islands said that, “For most of the Pacific Small Island Developing States (SIDS), the continuing validity of their marine jurisdictional claims is necessary to ensure various economic activities and continued access to natural resources that provide revenue and support the livelihoods of their peoples,”.

“In recognising this need, FAO provided funding and technical support to enable Pacific SIDS and FFA member countries to meet in Fiji this week to exchange information and views and with the support of international experts, work towards development of a regional strategy for the preservation of jurisdictional claims”, Mr. Wall said.


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