Geophysical Institute

GFI/BCCR Seminar: Climate change, sovereignty and maritime contestations in the Pacific Ocean

Edvard Hviding (UiB)

Climate change, sovereignty and maritime contestations in the Pacific Ocean


In the 21st century, Pacific views of the ocean as generative and supportive of distinct ways of human existence are challenged: for many islanders of Oceania, global climate change is transforming the life-giving ocean into a threat. As the warming, acidification and rising of the sea erode reefs and coasts, and as new forms of extreme weather become regular, low-lying Pacific atoll nations may be destined for an unprecedented political situation with permanent flooding of their land. Questions are asked whether the disappearance of dry land may imply similar fates for the Exclusive Economic Zones of atoll nations, and consequent future loss of the maritime territories and economic resources of these Big Ocean States. New challenges to Oceania’s state and maritime sovereignties emerge, while predatory initiatives from high seas fisheries and seabed mining into sovereign-less ocean – Mare Nullius – are predicted. In this field of urgency and contestation, Oceania’s diverse forms of regional governance and global diplomacy generate new initiatives for protecting the EEZs as well as for re-claiming the ocean beyond 200-mile zones. New approaches to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea are proposed by Pacific states, as seen at the United Nations Ocean Conference in June 2017. This lecture discusses current and future Mare Nullius scenarios for Oceania, with reference to ongoing research that ranges from Pacific villages and national capitals to United Nations meetings.