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Threatened Island Nations Conference May 23-25
By Columbia Law School
May 19, 2011 - 3:41:12 PM

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New York, NY - The Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia Law School will host the first international academic conference to examine the legal options for island nations whose continued existence is in jeopardy because of rising sea levels and climate change.

The consensus is that absent corrective action, several low-lying island nations likely will become uninhabitable in a matter of decades, posing a serious security risk and potentially forcing the relocation of hundreds of thousands of people to other countries. Other island nations may also experience serious long-term risks.

The conference, to take place May 23-25, is also sponsored by the Republic of the Marshall Islands, whose president, Jurelang Zedkaia and Minister of Foreign Affairs, John Silk,are among the dignitaries slated to attend. The conference will examine the legal options for such issues

  • Preserving marine rights. How are resources and borders defined when a nation disappears?
  • Resettlement and migration as a new refugee population is created. Can larger countries be obligated to take in these displaced persons? Is this a politically acceptable situation?
  • Can a nation preserve its statehood and sovereignty if it physically ceases to exist?
  • Who would pay for these enormous undertakings?
  • How can nations adapt to rising sea levels and prolong the habitability of these islands? What long-range design and policy alternatives may exist?

These are all novel, intriguing questions that government officials and international lawyers have yet to answer and will be explored in-depth at the conference.

WHAT: The conference “Threatened Island Nations: Legal Implications of Rising Seas and a Changing Climate”

WHEN: May 23-25, 2011

WHERE: Columbia Law School, 435 West 116th St., New York, NY

WHO: Marshall Islands President Jurelang Zedkaia and Foreign Affairs Minister John Silk, Center for Climate Change Law Director Michael Gerrard, and dozens of leading government officials, diplomats, lawyers, academics, and scientists. A profile of Gerrard and his work on this issue can be seen here. This event is also sponsored by The Earth Institute of Columbia University and The World Bank.

All sessions will be webcast live. Follow the conference on Twitter using the #risingseas hash tag.

Media who wish to attend must register with the Law School’s Public Affairs Office, at 212-854-2650, or publicaffairs@law.columbia.edu by May 19 .

A subsequent advisory will contain live and remote interview availabilities at the conference, a confirmed list of panelists, and a webcast link.


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