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The Price of Sovereignty in the Era of Climate Change: The Role of Climate Finance in Guiding Adaptation Choices for Small Island Developing States


Climate change poses an existential threat to small island developing states that are at risk of losing their territories to sea-level rise and severe weather events.  These nations must make decisions about how to preserve their sovereignty and create a meaningful future in the face of imminent territorial loss.  Territorial loss creates a risk of displacement and statelessness, and the world has yet to confront the possibility of a permanently deterritorialized island nation.  Against this backdrop, small island developing states must choose, design, and finance adaptation options to preserve their status as sovereigns and enable them to design a self-determined future, be it on their existing islands, artificial islands, or a resettlement elsewhere.  Adaptation measures, however, are beyond the financial means of most small island communities.

This Article explores adaptation options for small island developing states and the financial mechanisms available to support these choices.  It describes the potential adaptation responses these states can pursue, including territorial solutions, such as building up existing islands and designing artificial islands, and nonterritorial options, such as proactive resettlement elsewhere.  Global adaptation finance exists for short-term measures to preserve habitability, but longterm adaptation measures—like elevating existing islands, building artificial ones, or planned resettlement—are critically underfunded.  This Article therefore exposes the inadequacy of existing climate finance sources to meet the longterm adaptation needs of small island nations.  In light of this gap, it suggests these nations pursue multiple paths for survival by continuing to invest in short-term projects to preserve island habitability, take steps to attract financing for longterm adaptation measures, and advocate to secure political and legal rights through existing or new international agreements.

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