Pacific demands on maritime borders

Pacific nations will present a list of demands to next week’s Climate Change Conference to maintain their rights and entitlements against rising sea levels and shrinking coastlines.

The recent Pacific Islands Forum produced a Declaration of Preserving Maritime Zones in the Face of Climate-Change Related Sea-Level Rise document that outlines the position of its member states to Glasgow over the potential reduction of borders.

The declaration has been a culmination of multilateral strategies and diplomatic statements from the Office of the Pacific Ocean Commissioner over the shared stewardship of 16 sovereign nations and further territories to safeguard both economic and cultural zones in the region.

The New Zealand government describes the declaration as a “ground-breaking initiative which builds upon a long history of Pacific Island Forum leadership on oceans issues”.

“Maritime zones, and the resource rights that come with them, are of fundamental importance to Pacific countries’ economies,” a statement from Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s office said.

“Moreover, these countries have been planning their long-term development in reliance on those rights, which are guaranteed to them under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.”

The Pacific Ocean has 35 from 48 “overlapping borders” that have been mutually delineated between countries or territories.

Pacific maritime boundaries status
The status of Pacific maritime boundaries as of July 2020. Picture: Pacific Community

The declaration is calling on urgent action to secure remaining maritime zones they say will require significant diplomatic, legal and cultural dialogue.

While it is an attempt to push aside the Convention on the Law of the Sea provisions that frustrated Pacific nations’ negotiations for more than three decades, the declaration does not totally dismiss it.

“Acknowledging that the relationship between climate change-related sea-level rise and maritime zones was not contemplated by the drafters of the convention at the time of its negotiation, and that the convention was premised on the basis that, in the determination of maritime zones, coastlines and maritime features were generally considered to be stable,” a Pacific Islands Forum statement said.

The new forum document draws more on indigenous knowledge and history in the light of climate change altering maritime borders.

The work of the Vanuatu and Solomon Islands governments that resorted to traditional negotiation methods successfully secured a boundary agreement in 2016.

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