Climate Change and the Oceans

Climate Change and the Oceans

Gauging the Legal and Policy Currents in the Asia Pacific and Beyond

Edited by Robin Warner and Clive Schofield

Climate Change and the Oceans investigates the effects of climate change on the ocean environment and its implications for maritime activities, both globally and within the Asia Pacific region.

Chapter 6: Climate change and the limits of maritime jurisdiction

Clive Schofield and Andi Arsana

Subjects: environment, climate change, environmental law, environmental sociology, law - academic, environmental law, maritime law


Among the most salient impacts on the oceans associated with climate change is potentially significant and, critically, rapid sea-level rise. Sealevel rise of this character would clearly pose potentially disastrous threats to numerous coastal States, especially those with large areas of heavily-populated, low-lying coastal territory. In light of long-standing and ongoing shifts in the concentration of global populations from rural to urban and from interior/highland to coastal/lowland contexts, concerns over the potential effects of sea-level rise on heavily inhabited areas are significant (Schofield 2011). Indeed, it has been estimated that a sea-level rise of 1 m would inundate the territory presently home to around 60 million people (Ananthaswamy 2009). Further, even if not permanently inundated, climate change and sea-level rise are likely to make low-lying coastal areas more vulnerable to periodic flooding as a consequence of an increasing incidence of extreme weather events, leading, for instance, to storm surges occurring on top of an elevated base sea level (Gornitz 1995). Of particular concern in this context are large portions of the low-lying mega-deltas of the world, including those of Vietnam’s Mekong and Red Rivers in the Asia-Pacific. These areas are especially vulnerable because large areas are actually below mean sea level at present sea levels (Doyle et al. 2010). Indeed, it has been estimated that a 1 m rise in sea level could displace more than 7 million inhabitants in the Mekong delta area alone (UNDP 2011). Moreover, in addition to threats to populated coastal areas, concerns have been raised over the potential impacts of increased salt water intrusion on agricultural land close to the coast as well as valuable coastal environments and habitats such as wetlands and mangroves as a consequence of sea-level rise (Freestone 1991). Rising sea levels and the inundation of coastal territory also pose a dire and possibly terminal threat for communities inhabiting low-lying islands and States composed of islands.

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