Day 3: Threatened Island Nations Conference

The last day of the conference began with a panel that analyzed the adaptation needs and strategies for threatened islands. Professor Klaus Jacob of Columbia University presented a risk assessment model using the variables of hazards, assets, and vulnerability. He outlined two approaches to the model: 1) using loss estimates for scenario storms, waves, ties, and relative flooding; and 2) using annualized flood losses as a function of sea level rise. The conclusion of his research predicted that the population density in the Majuro Atoll would need to be reduced by the time that sea level rise exceeds 0.3-0.5m.

Erin Coughlan of Columbia University then presented a group study conducted on adaptation strategies implemented around the world that might be appropriate for the Marshall Islands. She broke up the strategies into three categories: protection, accommodation, and retreat. Her team’s proposal looked at a hybrid approach that integrates all these strategies. She then proposed a plethora of approaches that could be undertaken at the national, regional, and household levels.

Albon Ishoda, the Executive Director of the Marshall Islands Conservation Society, stressed that there cannot be a “one-size-fits-all” approach to adaptation because each atoll has different geographic characteristics that cause its vulnerability to sea level rise and climate change to vary. He explained the community-based process that his group has been pursuing, emphasizing that social factors cannot be ignored. He also highlighted the two challenges to this approach: difficulties associated with translating the scientific and legal language to a more accessible form for the locals; and the need to garner the necessary funding and assistance to launch adaptation projects. He added that even the meager funding that is provided unfortunately largely comes with stipulations, which do not necessarily benefit the local communities.

Murray Ford of the University of Hawaii closed this session, building upon Ishoda’s speech and reiterating the issues with homogenizing adaptation strategies for atolls. To prove his point, he referred to the vast difference in adaptation needs between the Marshall Islands’ Jabat and Jeh Islands.


The second session today discussed the law and policy choices available for threatened islands. Professor Justin Rose, Director of the Environmental Law Program at the University of the South Pacific, elucidated on many of the threats to legal adaptation policies. He identified threats to be both internal and external: the internal threats were a lack of inter-sectoral policy coordination, building and maintaining cooperative relationships between state and customary institutions; the external threats were lack of coordination among donor-funded programs and donor-driven preferences inhibiting effective law and policies. The solution that Rose provided is to pursue medium to long-term national planning that encompasses climate adaptation within a program of action for all key development related sectors. He coined this the “Vanuatu 2050 plan.” He added that donors could deliver climate funds as well but it must be additional to existing development aid.

After this presentation, two speakers gave regional perspectives on activities occurring around the world.  First, Robert Maketo, Attorney General of the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), added his thoughts on options that can specifically be pursued within the FSM.  And finally, Dr. Chan-ho Park, legal counsel for the Global Green Growth Institute, wrapped up the discussion outlining the legal options that South Korea is pursuing to enable green growth.


In the final session of the conference, Foreign Minister Silk of the Marshall Islands summed up the projections for sea level rise that had been brought forth throughout the conference emphasizing their impact on the Marshall Islands’ security and survivability. He credited the focus and engagement of the international academic community demonstrated at the conference with laying the groundwork for an issue that the international political community has only begun to scratch the surface of.

Ambassador Jarmo Viianen of Finland then expressed Finland’s commitment to vulnerable island states. For the way forward, he stated that the international community must frame climate change as an issue of peace and security and that the UN Security Council must realize this relationship.

Professor Gerrard continued the conversation putting the urgency for action into perspective. He asserted that the larger threat in the near future is extreme weather events and that perils to statehood are not imminent. He stressed that legal remedies may not be necessary and that political action could certainly serve as a solution. He endorsed the use of bilateral and regional agreements to deal with issues of migration and resettlement until an international agreement is made, if one is necessary. Gerrard then opened the floor to the audience to express their thoughts on the conference and the issues presented. Various representatives from the Marshall Islands, Palau, Cape Verdes, Belize, Maldives, India, Bangladesh, Grenada, and Nauru expressed their gratitude to the Center for Climate Change Law and Marshall Islands Government for hosting such a conference and expressed support from their respective countries for future efforts.



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