New Topic in the ILC Programme of Work: Sea-Level Rise in International Law

At its 71st session, in 2019, the International Law Commission (ILC) decided to include the topic of ‘Sea-level rise in international law’ in its programme of work, based on the recommendation of the Working Group on the long-term programme of work. The initiation of the Commission’s work on this topic is accompanied by the establishment of an open-ended Study Group, to be co-chaired on a rotating basis by Mr. Bogdan Aurescu, Mr. Yacouba Cissé, Ms. Patricia Galvão Teles, Ms. Nilüfer Oral and Mr. Juan José Ruda Santolaria.

Sea-level rise, which falls within the broad definition of “disasters” adopted by the ILC draft articles on the Protection of persons in the event of disasters, was already referred to in the Fourth Report on the Protection of the Atmosphere in 2017. However, several members of the Commission suggested that the issue be treated as a separate topic in a more comprehensive manner, as a matter of priority.

The work of the ILC will address the implications of sea-level rise in relation to three main areas, namely: A) law of the sea; B) statehood; and C) protection of persons affected by sea-level rise. The Study Group will analyse the existing international law, including treaty and customary international law, in an effort to assist States in developing practicable solutions to respond to these issues.

The Study Group is expected to elaborate a Final Report, accompanied by a set of Conclusions, to be subsequently considered for further developments within the Commission or other fora.