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This article is written by Pranav Avinash Wadhawankar, from School of Law, Sandip University, Nashik.


Since the advent of fire, Man has been advancing unprecedentedly. Industrialization was one such huge reform that transformed the lives of people. The creation of big Industries gave birth to job opportunities for many. In result, it transformed the society from agricultural to industrialised one, which led to urbanization. But all this progress came at a price – Global Warming. Climate Change is perceived as one of the greatest challenges for Humanity to overcome. Climate Change has varied observable results like an increase in temp, minimum temperatures, higher ocean temperatures, an increase in heavy precipitation and storm, shrinking glaciers, melting permafrost & many more.

Sea Level Rise (SLR) is one such effect of Climate Change. It is a disastrous problem that needs to be addressed. Sea level proceeding to arise would result in flooding, and draining saltwater into tidal areas. It raises migration, reduces military preparedness, and endangers historical sites located near coasts. This will commence to the infringement of certain basic Human Rights.

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At its seventieth session (2018), the International Law Commission elected to recommend the summation of the topic “Sea-level rise in relation to International law” in its long-term memoranda of work.

Consequences of rise in sea level

For eras, the coastline has remained a market for a diversity of ventures including industry, resorts, cultivation, fun and fisheries. SLR is an underestimated effect of Climate Change. A 2017 report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), revealed low-level rise conditions are estimated at least six inches of SLR by 2050, whereas ultimate scenarios imply that SLR could be up to two feet by 2050. Currently, the rise has doubled over the years & is continuing to grow at a concerning average of 3.3 millimetres per year. 

The outcomes of this are very severe, some of which are noted below;

1) Economic Impact

Global SLR changes have undeniably grown to deliver a hit on highly weak economies. These consequences of SLR are an essential ingredient of the predicted economic destruction of climate change. Some of the diverse damages are enlisted below.

  1. The loss of land.
  2. The loss of infrastructure and material capital.
  3. The end of social capital including the added cost of extreme cases and coastal floods.
  4. A rise in expenditure for coastal safeguard.
  5. Homes built near the coast will face threats such as in the US.

2) Environmental Impact

Coastlines remain sensitive to SLR which result in variations of the frequency and strength of storms, increments in precipitation, and warmer sea temperatures. Ecological impacts could be severe as stated below:

  1. Breeding territory in dunes, tidal swamps, and tidal wetlands, used by numbers of species, could be damaged.
  2. Results would be especially high for any of marine’s most threatened birds.
  3. Fisheries could be massively affected.
  4. Land near the coast will drop its fertility by which farmers would be affected.

3) Forced Migration

SLR would double flood regularity, erosion, inundation, and rising water tables to weak communities, formulating danger to food preservation and maintenance of the community. The number of people who would be harmed by SLR is only going to increase.

Presently around 40% of the world’s communities reside within 100 kilometres of the shoreline so relocating such a vast number of people will be remarkably challenging. 

4) Tourism

Based on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 2014, coastal tourism has been the greatest segment of the global tourism industry. The tourism industry is alone of the world’s most booming industries, accounting for about 10.3% of global GDP and provides jobs to people worldwide & it will be massively transformed.

Sea-level rise will hit coastal tourism as a consequence of coastal flooding, erosion and changes to the frequency and rise of extreme sea levels. Drastic situations can be highly disruptive to tourism infrastructure besides the coasts. Developing countries and small islands encircled by the coast are reliant on coastal tourism and will be affected directly by SLR.
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Law & Sea Level Rise

The International Law Association established one Committee on International Law and Sea Level Rise in 2012. The committee was appointed to focus its work on three foremost issues cause by SLR:

  • The law of the sea.
  • Forced migration and human rights.
  • Problems of worldwide security.

At its 3467th meeting, on 21 May 2019, the committee decided to cover the topic in its contemporary programme of work. International Law & Sea Level Rise was established by ILA Executive Council in November 2012. The Committee was tasked:  

  • To investigate the possible consequences of SLR & suggestions under International Law.
  • To produce proposals for the continuous advancement of International Law about the potential loss to statehood, maritime zones, human rights.

Which Human Rights would be violated

1) Right to Life 

Climate change has a direct & indirect loss to human life. Mortality is one consequence of climate-related limits, such as heatwaves, droughts, floods, hurricanes and wildfires. There is a high assurance of the death in low-lying waterfront zones and small island developing nations and other small areas due to hurricane waves, seaside flooding and sea-level.

The right to life is explicitly protected in various human rights treaties, in precise, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which is stated in Article 6 (1) as 

” Every human being owns the basic right to life. This right shall be protected by law. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life.”

It is defined as the “supreme right”, “necessary to all human rights”, which cannot be discredited from people even in periods of public emergency.

2) Right to Adequate Food

Warming, drought, flooding and precipitation variability are associated hazards of food insecurity and the breakdown of food systems, especially for the poor. World’s food stocks could be heavily distorted.

The right to adequate food is described in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), which additionally harbours the right of everyone to be free from hunger.

Article 11 of ICESCR elaborates this right as:

“Everyone holds a right to have a certain adequate standard of living for them & their family. This right further expands to the right of housing, clothing and advises states to the instantaneous improvement of living conditions.”

This right further affirms that it is the fundamental right of every individual to survive huger free. To make no individual deprive of their fundamental rights it advises the states to;

  • To develop the method of production, cultivation, accommodation and developing or reforming agrarian systems to make optimum use of natural resources.
  • To assure the free flow of food-importing and food-exporting from other states.

3) Right to Water

Rising sea levels are a well-known warning to contamination of freshwater reserves in coastal systems and low-lying areas. Renewable surface water and groundwater reserves are also foretold to shrink significantly in most dry subtropical areas due to climate change. Because of rising sea levels, there is estimated to be a risk of supply of drinking water.

Water is an inadequate natural reserve and a good fundamental for life and health. The human right to water is needed for leading a life in human dignity. It is a basis for the accomplishment of other human rights. 

The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, General Comment in its General Comment 15 guarantees:

The right to water permits, everyone, without discrimination, to have access to sufficient, safe, acceptable, physically accessible, and, affordable water for personal and domestic use.

4) Right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health 

Storm surges, coastal flooding and sea-level rise are assumed to lead to injury and ill-health in low-lying coastal zones and small island emerging countries and other small islands. Mental Health is also at risk because of climate change.

The most familiar combination of the right to the highest available measure of physical and mental health is in article 12 of the ICESCR.

The article states that to the full realization of this right shall comprise those necessary for:

  1. Reduction in infant mortality.
  2. Improvement of all phases of environmental and industrial cleanliness.
  3. Creation of conditions which would ensure all medical service and medical attention in the event of sickness.
  4. Prevention and control of the epidemic.

5) Right to self-determination

The IPCC notes that land flood originating from SLR is expected to pose risks to the territorial integrity of States with extensive coastlines. In such cases, the right to self-determination is critical since it is questionable that the whole community will be able to be relocated and be together elsewhere.

This particular right is most prime in the context of International Law.

The right to self-determination is the right of a people to determine its destiny. Generally, the principle provides people to determine its political status and to decide its form of economic, cultural and social advancement.

The principle of self-determination is embodied in Article I of the Charter of the United Nations. The article also specifies to respect this particular right that everyone has the right to self-determination. Because the right people can unobstructedly decide their political status and freely endure their economic, social and cultural development.

6) Right to cultural identity

Climate change has significant assistance for the benefit of the right to cultural identity. It indicates vital challenges for diverse indigenous peoples, including toward their cultural practices, information systems, traditional food systems and livelihoods and adaptive approaches. Many people would be deprived of traditional territories and roots of livelihoods.

Furthermore, in the interest of indigenous populations, climate change impacts are anticipated to severely and disproportionately harm other vulnerable groups, including women, children, the elderly, persons with disabilities and the poor.

Culture is vital to human pride and integrity. Recognizing the link between cultural rights and human rights is essential to the safeguarding and betterment of culture, as well as the rights of people. The notion of culture is extensive.

As stated in Articles 4 and 5 of the 2001 UNESCO Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity, the protection of cultural rights is connected from the achievement of human rights and fundamental freedoms, in particular the rights of women, minorities and indigenous peoples. 

Article 27 of UNHR also states that everyone has a right to protect their culture.


While there prevail enormous rights which ensures minimum suffrage of people likes to be affected by SLR. There still exist some flaws in agreements & treaties which could affect millions. Below are some enlisted views which could help overcome current loopholes.

1) Structure a new legal obligation 

Firstly the main purpose of this section would be to help people who are displaced by sea-level rise. This obligation would constitute to create whole new laws & confer basic rights to climate refugees who are at risk because of forced migration.

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) does not have particular provisions on adaptation to SLR for islands. United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) administration provides a complete structure for accommodation but does not approach exactly the legal perspectives of these measures. This leads the way for the creation of a new legal obligation.

2) Combat sea level rise 

Maximum efforts should be accomplished to slow down or nullify SLR. The Paris Agreements Article 7 interprets into – Governments accepting to establish the global goal on adaptation of improving adaptive ability, encouraging resilience and decreasing vulnerability to climate change, to commit to sustainable development and guarantee an adequate adaptation acknowledgement in the meaning of the temperature goal.

The developed states, developing countries & least developed countries all should align commonly and make optimum efforts to fight climate change plus act aggressively to meet the Paris agreement.

3) Adaptation as a remedy

All Parties shall assist in planning for adoption to the impacts of climate change like promote and cooperate in scientific, technological, technical, socio-economic research. They should also encourage education of this certain topic & particularly enhance public awareness.

Expanding support for flexibility and adjustment exercises especially in the advancement of beachfront foundations like seawalls like in the Netherlands and the improvement of recently wrecked wetlands.

The Paris Climate Agreement offers a method to build funding for these kinds of projects and the cost for them may immediately get big.

4) Restricting emission controls

A strict regulation should be passed to stop the acceleration of climate change. Nonetheless, The Paris Agreement sets the limit for emitting emission & keeping global temperature below 2 degrees but without punishments. Lack of punishments hurts the effectiveness of the agreement.

5) Reforming humanitarian law

Preferably than converging specifically on changing law and describing the Law of the Sea or SLR, the focus should be upon humanitarian law, such as the Geneva Conventions or the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDoHR). 

Transforming international legal codes to offer for the relief of those fleeing sea-level rise would advance the aptitudes of the international community to cater for climate migrants and those left backwards. 

Refugee Law also needs to be inspected and reconstructed.


Climate change is one of the greatest hurdles humanity has ever faced. SLR is a major indicator of ongoing global change. As a global problem with local and diffused causes, it may only be met through international collaboration. New legal obligations need to be restructured to obstruct people getting deprived of their basic rights. Special care needs to be taken care of the weaker section of society residing near vulnerable coasts.

Though SLR cannot be halted for at least the next few hundred years, with proactive moderation it can be stalled down, and this would buy time for adaptation models to be adopted. If we aspire to protect our coastal communities and marine ecosystems, curb food insecurity, maintain tourism, recreation and trade, we need to act now and rapidly restrict our emissions.


1) “Report of the International Law Commission.” United Nations, (page 326)

2) Sea Level | NASA Global Climate Change. (n.d.). Climate Change: Vital Signs of the Planet.

3) Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate — Just another IPCC site. (n.d.). Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate.

4) Sea level rise from ocean warming is underestimated, scientists, say. (n.d.). The Guardian.


6) US Coastal Property at Risk from Rising Seas. (n.d.). By Union of Concerned Scientists.

7) Economic Impact | World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC). (n.d.). World Travel Tourism Council.

8) Sea-level rise in relation to international law — Analytical Guide to the Work of the International Law Commission — International Law Commission. (n.d.). International Law Commission.


10) OHCHR | International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. (n.d.). UNHR.

11) OHCHR | International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. (n.d.). International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

12) Climate Change Threatens Drinking Water, As Rising Sea Penetrates Coastal Aquifers. (n.d.). ScienceDaily.

13) CESCR General Comment No. 15: The Right to Water | Global Health & Human Rights Database. (n.d.). Global Health & Human Rights.

14) Charter of UN. (n.d.). United Nations.

15) UNESCO Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity (2001) – Dr Zhiwen Hu. (n.d.). Zhiwenhu.


16) Human Rights by the UN. (n.d.). UN.

17) The Impact of Global Warming on Human Fatality Rates. (2009, June 17). Scientific American.

18) Flavelle, C. (2019, August 9). Climate Change Threatens the World’s Food Supply, United Nations Warns. Https://Www.Nytimes.Com/#publisher.

19) Weir, K. (n.d.). Climate change is threatening mental health. American Psychological Association.

20) Rising Sea Levels and Indigenous Communities. (n.d.). Climate Institute.

21) Climate change ‘threatens self-determination’ of citizens in the island. (n.d.). UN News.

22) Bottollier-Depois, M. H. A. A. (2019, September 22). Refugees from rising seas: no place to call home. PHYS.ORC.

23) Denchak, M. (n.d.). Paris Climate Agreement: Everything You Need to Know. NRDC.

24) Kimmelman, M. (2017, June 15). The Dutch Have Solutions to Rising Seas. The World Is Watching. The New York Times Company.

25) Rashid, N. M. (2019, February 19). Refugee Law. United Nations and the Rule of Law.

26) Paris Agreement. (n.d.). UNFCCC.

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