Environmental Law Program

ELP Colloquium: Jenny Grote Stoutenburg on Threatened Island States

On September 1, 2011, Jenny Grote Stoutenburg, international environmental law scholar and Ph.D candidate at the University of Hamburg in Germany, presented her research entitled “Threatened Island States: The Impact of Sea Level Rise on Maritime Entitlements and State Continuity” for the year’s first Colloquium of the Environmental Law Program (“ELP”). Mrs. Grote Stoutenburg is a former Visiting Scholar at the University of California, Berkeley Boalt Hall School of Law and holds law degrees from the University of Cologne, Germany, and the Université Paris I (Pantheon-Sorbonne), France. Mrs. Grote Stoutenburg has written several articles relating to small island states, international environmental law, ocean law, and environmentally-induced migration.

(Photo L-R: Associate Dean Denise Antolini, Professor John Van Dyke, Eric Stoutenberg, Jenny Grote Stoutenberg, Associate Professor Maxine Burkett, ELP Research Associate Brent Kakesako ’12, and Interim ELP Director David Forman ’93)

Mrs. Grote Stoutenburg demonstrated that as sea levels rise, island states might lose their maritime entitlements due to the reclassification of islands as rock or low-tide elevation based on current rules of the international law of the sea. Moreover, the loss of land reduces the baselines of the island states, which means that their maritime zones will also shrink, thus hurting their economies that rely on the resources found in these zones. Mrs. Grote Stoutenburg argues that unilateral strategies to fix maritime zones are insufficient, as for instance coastline protection is expensive and often ineffective; maritime boundary delimitation agreements cannot address all maritime limits; and unilateral attempts to create new customary international law will generate legal uncertainties. Mrs. Grote Stoutenburg recommends that small island states should seek a collective solution in the United Nations General Assembly with outcomes such as a Resolution on Stable Maritime Zones or an Implementation Agreement on Sea Level Rise.

In addition to a loss in maritime entitlements, Mrs. Grote Stoutenburg demonstrated that a rise in sea level might also lead to a loss of statehood. Effective statehood is defined by four criteria: defined territory, a permanent population, an effective government, and factual and legal independence. Mrs. Grote Stoutenburg argues that island states might survive as “deterritorialized” states once sea level rise forced the island state’s last “population nucleus” to leave the remaining land. Despite being based on the territory of a host state, the “deterritorialized” island state would then continue to benefit from the presumption of sovereign equality of states and could continue to administer its maritime zones and protect its people.

On a personal note, ELP would also like to congratulate Jenny on her recent marriage to Eric. Hope you two enjoyed your stay in Hawaiʻi!